Sony, 2009

REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles


Okay, okay, okay. I admit it. For the first time in years, I bought an album after hearing only one song. But “Pretty Wings,” the first single off Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night, is a phenomenal tune. Starting with what sounds like a gamelan, the song has a stripped-down simplicity that builds as background vocals, organ, and horns strategically enter to highlight the tale of a man giving up on his love pursuit. A culmination of unrequited love and sexual frustration, Maxwell belts, “To see clearly the way that love can be /  When you are not with me / I had to leave, I had to live / I had to leave, I had to live.” Containing the gamelan prelude, a tense interlude, and a resolved outerlude, the song is a complete R&B sonata with exposition, development, and recapitulation.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If only the rest of the album were as brilliant. The first installment of an album trilogy, BLACKsummers’night often falls into the tempting trap of overproduction. The clutter of sound that pollutes many of the album’s songs detract from the music’s raw simplicity, a quality Maxwell is capable of. Take “Help Somebody,” a track that could have been a funky testament to the power of altruism but ends up a forgettable, messy barrage of needless noise. From the annoying piano reverb and echo to the in-your-face background vocals, producers Maxwell (credited as Musze) and Hod David seemed to forget the old adage: too much of a good thing is rarely a good thing. Other songs that follow this pattern are “Love You,” “Fistful Of Tears,” “Playing Possum,” and the instrumental “Phoenixrise.” Note to self: when creating an album that features a soul singer, do not include an out-of-place techno instrumental.

The better songs on BLACKsummers’night follow “Pretty Wings”’s formula of simple, powerful soul music, though none of them as enigmatically as “Pretty Wings.” “Bad Habits” is a desperate yet entertaining plea for forgiveness and redemption. “Stop The World” is an adequate falsetto ballad that is worth a listen but is certainly not brilliant. And “Cold,” the runner-up for best song on the album, is a funky mix of Al Green and Sly Stone. Maxwell’s sexual frustration takes over “Cold” as he ecstatically sings, “As God as my witness / My summer’s gone frigid / My summer’s gone frigid / I know you can hear this / How can you be so cold?”

No doubt, Maxwell is a talented guy. He is a great singer, a forceful entertainer, a prolific composer, and an important figure in the development of neo-soul. Much of BLACKsummers’night captures the simplicity, desperation, and raw sexual spiritualism of soul music’s greatest triumphs. Unfortunately, other songs drift into a messy overflow of dissatisfaction. My advice: definitely download “Pretty Wings,” maybe buy a few of the album’s other songs, and leave the rest for the diehard fans.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2009 Michael Broyles and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sony, and is used for informational purposes only.