When Maxwell released his third album “Now” in 2001 his music has taken a more commercial route whilst retaining the conceptual feel of the previous two efforts.
Selling over a million copies of “Now” in America Maxwell was at the peak of his powers crossing over to a new generation with his Jazzy Funky sultry soulful tunes which had him coming out of the Neo Soul movement and into a highly fascinating rounded artist.
But then he disappeared.
There was to be to capitalising on his success and reputation. He just simply went away to live his life.
During the 00’s there were always rumours that this would be the year that Maxwell returned (similar happened with his contemporary D’Angelo) but it wasn’t until 2009 that Maxwell did in fact return with what was to be part of a trilogy “BLACK Summers Night”.
Gone was the afro which had become synonymous with him (sometimes as much as his music) and here was an older but strong looking well turned out handsome man.
The voice too had slightly change with a little bit more of a rasp in his vocal and a shakier falsetto to what we heard on “Now” on songs such as “This Womans Work”.
But Maxwell still had this aura around him and on the albums opening track “Bad Habits” he confirms that he has returned with an almost aggressive track which delves into the world of passion and the inability to turn yourself off from the attraction you have for someone.
This is a real smooth way to start the album and an instant reminder to what we have been missing. This is grown up R&B. It’s about giving into feelings that you know are destructive but that itch has to be scratched.
The live instrumentation that this song has is carried throughout the album with the horn section on this track in the last portion of the track is really something special and he tests his vocal in a way that you get to hear all the different skills he possesses as a singer.
“Cold” displays a funkier edge to its instrumental which is engaging and Maxwell really delivers the lyrics in an expressive way. Here he is talking about a girl he is with who will no longer be intimate with him. He is trying to play it off as lightly as possibly but it is irritating him as he asks simple “How can you be so cold?”
Maxwell has a way about talking about relationships and love that I have always found enjoyable because he sometimes writes songs that are intricate and introspective and then catches you off guard with songs like “Cold” or “Get To Know Ya” from the previous album which are direct and to the point.
The centre piece of this album is the 3rd track “Pretty Wings”. To be frank, this song is one of the greatest R&B soul songs of the last 30 years. In fact I would have it in my top ten songs of all time. This is one of the finest songs Maxwell has ever created and was the lead single from this album.
“Pretty Wings” is about a relationship which is failing with Maxwell knowing that he cannot keep this person with him any longer and need to allow them to go elsewhere.
It is clear that things in this relationship are not coming naturally and Maxwell loves this person more than they love him. But his love for them is so great that he would allow them to go elsewhere with his blessing because he really wants them to happy.
This is a gorgeous sentiment and with the way Maxwell vocalizes these lyrics the song extremely emotional. You leave the song wondering what will happen to this relationship going forward.
A stunning song and worth buying the album if only to hear this magnificent piece of music.
“Help Somebody” is a change of direction with a bigger and louder sound to what we have heard up to this point. I think after the seduction of “Pretty Wings” a change was needed to take you out of that emotional lull that the track had created.
The instrumentation is fresh sounding on this song but the arrangement of the vocals is perhaps a little messy. In fact this song is a little all over the place a times and sometimes hard to follow all the elements in it’s construction with so many instruments fighting to be heard.
“Stop The World” strips things down with what I consider and old fashioned soul song.
Vocally it is one of the bet performances on the set but the lyrics again see Maxwell show how wrapped up in someone he can get. The concept of stopping the world is exactly how he feels about this woman he is so in love with he has created a bubble for them both where nothing else matters. The extreme and intense way that he talks about relationships is more than just a normal R&B song – he really taps into the soul of the lyrics.
“Love You” is standard from the outset of what it is all about but delve deeper and put it into context with other songs we have heard so far and we see Maxwell again with someone who may not feel the same way as he does because his asking them can he be their man and wanting them to just let him love them.
If you mix this with the intense lyrics of songs like “Bad Habits” and “Stop the world” where he seems to lose touch of any reality other than one which inhabits just him and them you start to get a sense of how Maxwell struggles to deal with the feels that are inside him when he is in love. The need for someone and the requirement to have them to live is crippling.
The 7th track is “Fistful Of Tears” is almost a direct continuation of “Love You” as he is telling this girl that only her can stop the fistful of tears he has brewing inside him.
Open your eyes
See what’s in front of your face
And save me my fistful of tears
I think this song is one of the strongest on the album and vocally once again he shows that he is world class.
“Playing Possum” talks about being in a relationship with someone who instead of arguing and saying what they feel they withdraw from showing any of their feelings and essentially emotionally disappearing from the situation.
I don’t know if Maxwell talks about the same relationship on this album but there are so many similar themes that you would think that he is.
The trumpet section on this song is an exceptional ethereal moment which captures the feeling of loneliness.
The album ends with which is an instrumental bringing together all the wonderful musicianship we have heard on the project so far.
I believe the title of this track is meant to tell us that through all the instenity and darkness Maxwell has come out the other end and is ready to move forward. The tune itself is very upbeat and funky. It doesn’t evoke emotions of sadness but ones of progression.
Maxwell has been like a Phoenix Rising and BLACK Summers Night has been about telling us what he has been going through since he has been away.
Personally Maxwell is one of my favourite artists of all time. He sits up there with all the big guns and his albums I listen to time and time again and always feel that I can find something new every time.
This is how you do a comeback.