Black SUMMERS Night – Maxwell (2016)

When Maxwell released the first part of his Black Summers Night trilogy in 2009 it marked a return to the music industry after eight long years away. He vowed that it wouldn’t be such a gap between albums next time around but he was unable to keep to this as it took another seven years before part two was released.

Maxwell has been around since 1996’s debut “Urban Hang Suite” but Black SUMMERS Night is only his fifth album. The stardom that was ahead of him in 1996 wasn’t something he craved and like artists such as D’Angelo the output was scarce in order to keep the mystique and integrity.

This album isn’t as good as the first installment of this proposed set of three albums but it still has some interesting and experimental music that continues to show Maxwell as not just another R&B singer.

His voice is perhaps getting a little thinner and as a big fan of Maxwell I notice the change maybe more than others. It’s not all bad though as he is developing a rasp to his voice that I think will allow him to continue to make interesting music.

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“All The Ways Love Can Feel” kicks the album off and sounds very much a continuation to the BLACK installment of the trilogy. The production is familiar with the horns and bassline being the prominent instrumentation. He sings all of the song in falsetto which he can still hit. There is not a hint of auto tune as he delves into the world of love and he delivers a sexy display of passion and candidness.

I think this is one of the better tracks on the album and a song that was on rotation months after I first listened to the album. There is something about the atmosphere that he sets on this song that I love. It’s engaging and there is an edginess about the track that Maxwell often has that sets his music apart.

“The Fall” has a feel of a Dub Reggae track which isn’t what was expected after the opener but Maxwell sounds just as comfortable on this as any other genre we are used to hearing from him.

This is very chilled track and the instrumentation is so tight. Whilst lyrically it loses it’s way about half way through the track is so chilled and cool you can’t help but play it to the end.

“III” is a track I have a massive issue with. I have issue surrounding the entire song anyway which sounds as though Maxwell was just doing some jamming in the studio and they decided to just put it on the album. He isn’t singing, he is shouting and it doesn’t work for me.

But the massive issue for me is in the lyrics. There is a lyric so bad it is burned into my mind because I expected so much more from a man whose lyrics have been so well thought out on albums such as Embrya – Maxwell (1998) but there is no excuse for this:

“Go to Paris, maybe France
Even Russia if you wanna dance”

I am sure Maxwell is aware that Paris is in France. Not only is it in France but it is the capital city and one of the most famous capital cities in the world.

There is simply no excuse for such a terrible lyric. The song itself is poor anyway but that just takes it into the realm of appalling.

It is lucky for Maxwell that the next track is the best R&B song I’ve heard in a decade.

“Lake By The Ocean” served as the lead single from this album and it was the first song I heard on Spotify. It was the comeback song. Could Maxwell still produce a great song to go alongside his classics like “Ascension” or “Sumthin Sumthin”?

Yes he could. “Lake By The Ocean” was my favourite song of 2016 which you can see by clicking here: Top 10 Songs of 2016.

The vocal, the melody, the instrumentation and the beauty of this song just make it one that I cannot believe I will ever stop playing.

It wasn’t just me who thought it was a great song as “Lake By The Ocean” won the Grammy for Best R&B Song. Maxwell had duly delivered a song of gargantuan exquisiteness.

“Fingers Crossed” takes a while to get into but stick with it through the first minute and you get a real Maxwell gem. When first listening to this album I kept skipping this track because I found the first 45 seconds a little messy and difficult to enjoy but the more you delve into it you get some brilliant Maxwell vocals and the instrumentation sounds so tight again. It is almost as if this is a live performance in the way it is produced.

I dislike the way the next track “Hostage” starts and in all honesty I find the song a little too saccharine for my liking. Lyrically it is just so full of cliches and the instrumentation is minimal for the most part. From 2:51m the song kicks on but at 3:55m its just not enough for me to think that it is anything other than an album filler.

“1990x” is a gem. This song is encapsulates Maxwell and his way of talking about love and sex in such a deep and evocative way. This isn’t just any R&B song – this is the thinking mans R&B song.

There’s no song that defines it
There’s no music behind it
There’s no lyric to read from
There’s just you and the moment
Lay here closely beside me
Feel my heart as it’s pounded
I can climax with reason
Cause we’re grown and we own it

How can Maxwell create something so meaningful yet have a song like “III” on the same album?!

“Gods” is a heartbreak song but this track isn’t laden with cliches but with some real expressive portrayal of his feelings. His vocal tone allows you to be captured into his story and the religious theme of “Gods” opens up a number of interpreations – mainly that the person who has lied to him is someone he has followed relgiously to the point of worship and not only has he been betrayed by someone he loves but also by someone whose very being was the lifeblood of his existence.

Maxwell really delivers on this song.

“Lost” is a bit of bluesy 60’s soul song tribute which I don’t recall every hearing Maxwell try his hand at. He has often been compared to the soul greats of yesteryear so it is nice to hear him own this type of song.

Lyrically I feel this is a continuation of the previous track as he attempts to move on with his life after his break up. There is no doubt that in the way he sings these songs that there is some real truth to what he is talking about and if anyone wants to know what Maxwell has been doing over the last 7 years it would appear that he was getting his heart broken.

The 10th track “Of All Kind” is the most contemporary sounding track on the album which at this point is a nice refresher. Some intermittent hand claps the use of some gentle synths make it a welcome change to the previous three tracks.

I love the chorus on this track with the layered falsetto vocals that Maxwell has made his trademark.

Lyrically he again reaches for the religious connection stating that this person is the highest high (as he does on his classic track ‘Ascension’ from his debut album”) and his belief in love for another person is akin to his relationship with God.

The last full track on this album is “Listen Hear”. It is a shame that this song is put right at the end as it really deserves some attention. It’s a revealing self perspective from Maxwell who has talked on this album about how other people have made him feel about himself and love and life. But in this we get his perspective on himself:

I’m confusing at times
Sometimes I might lie
I’m scared and I’m shy
To show you just how weak I am
Cause sometimes I’m not the kind of man
I would like to be

The very last track is just 23 seconds long and called “Night”. It is just a sound of some waves crashing and I presume serves as prelude to what will be the final album in the trilogy.

Overall Maxwell has come back with a very solid album. I don’t think there is enough on here to really push his music forward like he did on BLACK but when you have a song like “Lake By The Ocean” you know you have a winner.

Maxwell remains one of my favourite artists of all time and I still believe he has something even better to give us even if its been over 20 years since his debut.

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