When Cody ChesnuTT snuck up on the scene back in 2002, he was cursed with folly of any new, slightly unique artist – hype. His modestly labelled double album The Headphone Masterpiece was recorded on a four track in his home studio/bedroom giving him instant indie credibility.
It was an indulgent 36 track piece that could have actually been a ‘classic’ if it had been trimmed sufficiently. Nonetheless, it was an album that gained traction after ?uestlove and The Roots got hold of it and re-recorded one of the stand out tracks the album, “The Seed,” and kept him on the vocals. Suddenly everyone from so called neo soul fans to indie music aficionados to music media (apparently he was the ‘new Hendrix’. Presumably because he was black and can play guitar) were all lining up to sing his praises.
The hype machine decided he was to be next big thing. Only he wasn’t – and not through lack of talent. He simply disappeared into the ether and people simply stopped talking about him. There are claims that he was stuck in a mire of addiction while he himself asserts it was to start a family. Either way, after a decade, he is back with a new effort Landing on a Hundred.
The fact that this album was recorded in the same studio where Al Green made “Let’s Stay Together” proves to reveal more than we think. From the positively saccharine yet soulful opening cut “Till I met Thee” we are immediately struck by a sense of growth in the character of Cody ChesnuTT. It already signals a departure from the swagger of songs like “Look Good in Leather” from his first album (“I was a dead man/ …. Till I met thee”); this is a humbler, world weary Cody we’re being introduced to.
Before we can settle into this meek version of the artist we met a decade ago, the follow up track “I’ve Been Life” immediately changes the tempo of the LP and also begins to allude to his main influences on this album. While there are obvious vocal nods to Al Green and Stevie Wonder (“Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way”), his primary inspiration is Marvin Gaye – and the not classic black and white Motown Marvin, but the bearded Whats Goin’ On Marvin Gaye. By the time we get to songs like “That’s Still Mama,” where he implores people to respect their mother’s without ever sounding condescending or preachy, we really start seeing a clearer picture of the Marvin he is channelling.
This is not to say that this an album that simply lifts from Marvin Gaye – far from it. The same way D’Angelo isn’t a copy of Prince, Cody isn’t a copy of Marvin. The album wouldn’t be out of place in the vibrant ’70s Soul scene sonically speaking, but it is to ChestnuTT’s credit that it also maintains a very timeless feel that makes it a pleasure to listen to.
Other standout tracks include “What Kind of Cool,” which allows him to showcase his vocals with a mellower tempo afforded in this instance, and “Chips Down (In No landfill)” where we get his most Gaye-esque song vocally, but most new ChesnuTT in terms of subject matter and humility.
This is an album with almost no filler. The greatest distinction that ChesnuTT wants us to have between his debut album, and this is the focus and chaos. Headphone Masterpiece was a cavalier, unfocused piece of work that had him veering from of out of control attitude to loverman to social commentator but ultimately showcased his talent, age and experience. It was the young man who felt he could do it all. Landing on a Hundred is a 40 year old man knowing exactly what he can do and how he can do it; presenting a tightly produced, polished piece of soul with an album that probably is closer to the ‘masterpiece’ title than his debut effort.
It may heavily be influenced by the heyday of soul in the ’70s, when Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield ruled the scene, but this is an album that stands on its own two feet. There are moments when you wish for some of that unashamed swagger that he started with – or that ChesnuTT journeyed to this level of maturity over a course of albums rather than by hiatus – but ultimately the sheer quality of the soul music on offer here will make you forget that.