At the rate the songs have been leaked on the Net from Nu-Soul pin-up Maxwell’s long-awaited album BLACKsummers’night, some might feel this review superfluous to their needs. So, I suppose this is for the benefit of those, who like me, chose to wait till after its official release on 7 July to properly sound it out…

Maxwell has chosen to return to the scene after 8 years with a whisper more than a shout. BLACKsummers’ night is an understated album but I have no doubt the Brooklyn-born crooner and his label Columbia Records are being strategic in this regards, and sensibly so. It has been well documented that BSN is the first of a trilogy of albums to be released one year after the other. I am not a film buff, but I imagine it’s the sonic equivalent of watching the first of a well-known Sci-Fi trilogy. At the end of the day neither the creators nor viewer want to invest too much in the first film since there are two more to go. Plus its probably only in retrospect one can analyse the story properly, as the sum of several parts. I get the impression this is what Maxwell’s doing with this first instalment. It’s a solid album but there are few of the straight-off-the-bat soul anthems, which we might expect from him.

It’s an album of evolution. As expected, at 36, Maxwell is clearly in a different place from the Afro-ed 23-year-old of ‘Ascension’ and ‘Sumthin’ Sumthin’ fame. His voice has also aged; well, mind you, but aged nevertheless. The natural passage of time has caught up with his vocal chords but not in a destructive way. Much like how the ruggedness that comes with age can add character to one’s face, Maxwell’s voice has acquired a little extra rasp that adds another dimension to his pretty vocals. Thankfully, the signature angelic falsetto and clean, controlled, heartfelt delivery still remain and that’s all that matters.

BSN also sees Maxwell experimenting with different sounds; a bit of electronica here, some Emo influences there. On listening I felt there were tracks that wouldn’t be out of place on Coldplay’sViva La Vida: or Death and all his friends’. He’s not unaware of what is going on around him musically but he can absorb it into his personal groove without confusing his fan base. If anything this proves the staying power of Maxwell. He can go away for years at a time and still have people interested in his work. When he returns he doesn’t have to fill his album with club-bangers, that will be forgotten as soon as the last notes are played, to stay current. Through his creative alter ego, Musze, he has created and customised his own sound. This way he continues to be relevant no matter what decade he emerges because his music doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is. Much like one of his – and my- inspirations, the group Sade.

Stand out tracks for me are the future classic ‘Bad Habits’, ‘Pretty Wings’ which, independent of the video and questionable sincerity of the lyrics, has worked its way back into my affections, ‘Possum Playing’ (for its intro and verses alone) and the poignant to a fault ‘Fistful of Tears’. Yet the one that haunts me the most is ‘Love You’. The lack of a chorus and accretive-nature of the melody serve the raw emotion of the lyrics well but it’s not so much these factors as the last strains of the song that get me every time. I don’t know, perhaps it’s because I am a soft-touch for a well placed organ solo but it goes straight to the lachrymal glands.

At just over 37 minutes long, with eight full length songs and an instrumental (a possible throwback to the bygone era of the LP that could fit no more than ten songs on at a time) BSN does not overstay it’s welcome. Maxwell is easing us gently into his comeback. This suggests parts 2 and 3 of the trilogy will be something serious to behold.

I for one can’t wait for Maxie-baby to do a world tour to accompany the release of BSN. Already one of the greatest male vocalists our generation has produced he remains, without question, one of the last real soul troubadours standing.

Review by Tolita.

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