Urban Hang Suite – Maxwell (1996)

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If Maxwell had been in his 20s during the 1970’s I have no doubt that everyone in the world would know his name like Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder. Unfortunately for Maxwell the mid 1990’s are not what you would consider the hub of soul music activity despite the ‘neo soul’ movement producing so many great artists and albums.

Maxwell released his debut album at a time where black music was beginning to become saturated with Hip Hop and R&B artists singing about sex in a graphic way. “Urban Hang Suite” is a much smoother listen as it encompasses a sexiness but in a much cleaner way without losing it’s edge.

This set is displays Soul, funk and Jazz.  The opening track “The Urban Theme” is an instrumental saxophone led jam which you might think is going to set the tone for the album but it really doesn’t. I do love this tune though as whilst it sometimes veers into Kenny G style cheesiness it still is a head nodder.

“Urban Hang Suite” is a bit of a concept album which Maxwell makes no attempt to hide that by listening to this piece of work you are entering into his place of love and sex. His first vocals can be heard on the track “Welcome” which is an alluring track where Maxwell’s voice displays all different types of characteristics. He sounds at times as if he is being a gentleman but there is a edge to the tone in his voice which is suggestive to the point of being vulger – but in a good way!

“Sumthin Sumthin” is just a brilliant song. The infectious baseline, the funky guitar and that voice go togetehr so beautifully. I would say this is most radio friendly song on the set with an easy to sing chorus with a hook that I am sure you will be remembering after the song has ended.

“Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” is the best song on the album. Sometimes you will listen to an album just for one song and whilst I think “Urban Hang Suite” is fantastic I also know that just for this song I would have purchased it. Maxwell shows all the range in his vocal and is convincing with every word. Lyrically Maxwell is delving deep into the love he has for this woman who he cannot believe that she is even real at times.

The base is again pounding on the next funky number “Dancewithme”. Maxwell has a falsetto which can move me and sometimes I can’t help thinking that if Marvin Gaye had been from this generation he would have been bringing out songs almost identical to this.

Maxwell is again very clever with the element of sexiness he brings to the song and the word “Dance” is obviously a euphemism for sex. Musically this is one of the best songs on the album with the base and funky guitar doing driving the song through to the point where Maxwell ceases to sing and lets the tune simmer.

“…Til the cops come knocking” is what is often referred to as ‘baby making music’. This may sound a little embarassing but I would point out that songs like this are often set out to evoke such thoughts and reactions. Maxwell clearly wanted to write a song which could stand next to a “Let’s Get It On” and he achieves this with a quite gorgeous song.

Gonna take you in the room suga’
Lock you up and love for days
We gonna be rockin baby
Till the cops come knockin
Papa gonna have to leave
A message on the telephone baby
There won’t be no stoppin’ me
Till the cops come knockin’

“Whenever Wherever Whatever” is a much more straight up love song. What I love about his song is the vocal from Maxwell because there is a temptation at times to go of on a crazy ad-lib but he keeps it simple and does not go for the vocal gymnastics in what is a simple acoustic track. The production of the song and lay out of the melody have been thought out well and I feel this is one of those songs where the vision the artist had for a song was completely realised.

“Lonely’s The Only Company” sees the line between being too smooth go over the edge slightly. The saxophone use makes the song fall into the cringe category slightly and the falsetto along with the sax doesn’t lead to a pleasant listen. The weakest song on the album by far.

“Reunion” is a better effort although it is a little bit plain in it’s lyric and musical structure. I feel that there is a point where Maxwell needs to come down an octave and perhaps show more of the deeper side of his voice which I think is needed to emphasise how serious he is about this girl and their ‘Reunion’. I don’t by that any girl would swoon to such a high pitch serenade for nearly 5 minutes.

“Suitelady (The Proposal Jam)” does see Maxwell ditch the falsetto. This is such an awesome track and lyrically really to the point.

“It’s been so long since I have got you lady
Since I have had yo brown legs wrapped around me
The smell of she just drives me crazy
Imagine what the sight of her can do”

I really enjoy the strain in his voice during the first line of each voice as he tries to convey a macho attitude yet explains that whilst he never thought he would be the type of man to settle down this lady has changed his mind.

“The Suite Theme” has a messy beginning with off key pianos and a drum machine led backing tune sounding totally out of sync with each other. The song begins to settle into what is a more dramatic and smoothed out jazz version of track one “The Urban Theme”. Nearly 4 minutes into the song and Maxwell does come in with some vocals although largley it is about nothing as he is just swooning over this chilled out jazzy number.

The final track is a reprise of “..Till the cops come knocking”. It’s almost as if you are to imagine Maxwell having got his girl an is walking off out of the Urban Hang Suite with her as they start their life together.

What Maxwell has created here is not just great sounding album with wonderful songs but he has said to the “R&B” world that before you embrace the sex and grittiness of Hip Hop – remember what Soul music is all about. Remember love, and passion and actual romance. Urban Hang Suite has every one of these elements and also the unbelievable voice Maxwell possesses.

Rating

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