Now – Maxwell (2001)

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Maxwell had hit the scene in 1996 with his critically acclaimed “Urban Hang Suite” which had taken him out of any usual Soul singer bracket. He was part of what was known as the ‘Neo Soul’ movement which artists such and Maxwell, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu must get sick of being referred to.

For me ‘Neo Soul’ is what you would consider ‘alternative’ R&B. It’s adult music, its serious music, it’s songwriters who happen to be black and happen to fall into a more Blues driven sound.

Maxwell followed up his big success with “Embrya” in 1998 but this was met with mixed reaction and even as a big Maxwell fan I can see why as it was totally left field. It was an album for himself and whilst indulgent did have some excellent songs. It made Maxwell even more interesting to me.

“Now” is certainly more akin to the debut album and you can’t help but think he was under pressure from the record company to make something a little more accessible.

After the release of “Now” Maxwell disappeared for 8 years. Perhaps I am looking into things too much but I feel that this was because maybe Maxwell wasn’t happy with this album and it’s direction that he may have been forced to go into.

The set kicks off with “Get To Know Ya”. Like many of the tracks on this project it is heavily bass driven with the strum of the acoustic guitar and horn section making up some excellent instrumentation.

Lyrically the song is about Maxwell trying to woo a girl by coming across as someone who wants to get to know her first before getting her into bed. In a way the song flips things to accuse the woman of perhaps moving too fast instead of it being the familiar male issue.

I love this track and whenever I want to play a bit of Maxwell this track often gets a airing. Funky, cool and catchy as hell.

“Lifetime” is where Maxwell is at his best lyrically. This melody is wonderful and so is his vocal but the lyrics are retrospective and positive. There is a feeling of depression the way he looks at his life but the way the chorus kicks links to the lyrics of how letting things get him down is not the answer and he will work it out.

I can let my life pass me by
or I can get down and try
work it all out this lifetime
work it on out this time

“W/As MY Girl” begins with a very sexy guitar rift. This song is as cool as you like. The lights need to be turned down low for this one and that is actually the first lyric of the song.

This track is our first introduction to the steel guitar which is commonly used in country music. To hear it on such a track creates quite an atmosphere. This track for me is all about the instrumentation and the different instruments used. In one sense it’s a bit of a love making sexy number but it has more to it than just track. Great song.

We then go into “Changed”. There is real groove apparent on this song and Maxwell sounds perfectly vocally. He talks about not being sure about a relationship and he has changed his mind about the future that they will be going into.

Everything was just fine
when you wanted to ruin my life
now it’s plain and easy for me to see
now that I’ve changed my mind
oh

This is some great music Maxwell is making here. He is smart, sexy but quite vulnerable at the same time on a track like this. The falsetto backing vocals are all done by himself as he shows further vocal talent.

“NoOne” is the sixth track. It has long been a favourite song in my collection. This track is dark, moody and on the surface lyrically it seems quite simple with Maxwell saying that there is no one like this person he is in love with but there is a strange lyric where he says that he could actually do better.

I try to forget ya
But you´re all i wanna do
Oh, i can do better
But there´s noone quite like, noone quite like you

The bassline in this song is just superb. All singing stops with over 2 minutes left to play and the song just plays out with the merging of bass, drums and whining guitar creating a very dark tone. Awesome.

“For Lovers Only” is perhaps too smooth for my tastes. It evokes imagines of rose petals and scented candles. I like smooth but this is perhaps too smooth for my taste buds. It is a pretty song no doubt as Maxwell channels his inner Prince as he croons over a simple tune.

“Temporary Nite” is the funkiest number on the album. It’s big, bold and agressive. The lyrics are Maxwell at his most confident. He is knows this woman likes him and wants to enjoy this experience. It’s a superb track and ones of the real highlights on “Now”.

I been misbehavin’
I been thinkin nasty thoughts about you
I’m sorry baby
I nevr said I was an angel

“Silently” is a song I often missed on “Now” due to many of the other bigger numbers. I feel this is the only song that would have fit on the “Embrya” album. It’s not a memorable track and is in my opinion the weakest song by some way off “Now”.

“Symptom Unknown” contradicts anything I said earlier about this album being more accessible to the masses as it is the most indulgent track on the album.It’s musically near redundant and it all about his voice as he displays lyrics that sees him totally lost in a relationship with someone. He seems to be so infected by what he is going through that reality is being blurred. This is the type of song that makes Maxwell so much more than a ‘Soul singer’.

The penultimate track is a cover of the Kate Bush song “This Woman’s Work”. Maxwell had covered this song for his “MTV Unplugged” live album just after the release of the debut studio album. His inclusion on here is surprising but quite stunning.

Covering a Kate Bush song is always going to be a difficult exercise but his falsetto is so very perfect. It oozes soul and his use of his upper register is just damn impression.

As the song nears it’s end and the song reaches a bit of a crescendo he falls back into his normal deeper singing voice and it is such an uplifting moment as you really connect with the lyrics. I usually hate covers being included on albums but this is more than a cover – this is Maxwell taking this song and making it completely his own.

The final track is “Now/At The Party”. The first portion of the song (which I guess it ‘Now’) is just an electro funky bass driven number. It’s an interesting way to end the album as he lets the music do the talking for the vast majority until Maxwell kicks in with his vocals which I believe is a message to his fans.

It is almost as it Maxwell is acknowledging that he is back on track with his career to be an accessible Soul/R&B artist.

Now we cool
Now we fine
Now we good
Everything is dyn-o-mite

This is a really strong ending to the set which overall is a highly enjoyable album. Whilst it is largely a mellow affair it is not so mellow that the feeling of the music fades into the background. This is not elevator music – this is music to elevate.

Maxwell is one of my favourite artists and it was this particular album that allows him to have a vast body of work that he can live on for probably the rest of his career.

This album gave him big memorable songs and the issues he had on “Embrya” are quickly dismissed with a well rounded project with “Now”.

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