Maxwell - BLACKsummers’night
Label: Columbia Records
Production: MUSZE, Hod David
Lead Single: Pretty Wings
It was the summer of 2001 and there was a debate raging that threatened to tear apart me and one of my closest friends, Viviane. It started out as an innocent question - who’s the best R&B singer alive? - but by the time we’d narrowed down the list to D’Angelo and Maxwell our “discussion” was a musical civil war. I was firmly entrenched in the D’Angelo camp, but when I’d hit Viviane with Brown Sugar she’d counter with Fortunate, and when I unleashed my secret weapons, the classic Untitled, she just calmly responded with … ...Read the full album review
DJBooth Album Review
It was the summer of 2001 and there was a debate raging that threatened to tear apart me and one of my closest friends, Viviane. It started out as an innocent question - who’s the best R&B singer alive? - but by the time we’d narrowed down the list to D’Angelo and Maxwell our “discussion” was a musical civil war. I was firmly entrenched in the D’Angelo camp, but when I’d hit Viviane with Brown Sugar she’d counter with Fortunate, and when I unleashed my secret weapons, the classic Untitled, she just calmly responded with Lifetime. It was war, and a peace agreement was nowhere in sight.
The only thing that saved our friendship was a mutual disappearance. D’Angelo got locked up on drug charges and Maxwell, well, just simply faded into the ether…until now. A mere eight years since Maxwell dropped his last album, the perpetually smooth singer has emerged from his self-described “time-off” to release BLACKsummers’night, an album that instantly re-establishes his presence in the music industry he so casually walked away from. (For the record, eight years is not “time off.” A month is time off, I’ll even give you a year, but eight years is a retirement). In fact, while unquestionably more mature, BLACKsummers’night is almost a seamless continuation of his previous work, work that was undeniably elite, but always left me feeling just a little disappointed.
I don’t want to run my hardcore street cred, but Pretty Wings is my joint. The first single off BLACKsummers’night, Pretty Wings is the kind of song that hypnotizes you with its slowly paced rhythm and captivating melody, forcing you to play it over and over again until you’ve memorized every snare hit and horn line. True to form, Maxwell’s almost impossibly smooth vocals weaves a tale of heartbreak over beautifully minimalist accompaniment, resulting in a track that beats with an undercurrent of regret and loss beneath its seemingly romantic surface (she’s spreading her wings, and in doing so flying away from him). In short, it’s one of my ridiculously early nominations for R&B song of the year.
Not all of BLACKsummers’night is as good as Pretty Wings, though it’s not that far off. Maxwell’s biggest strength may just be his restraint, his ability to always hold back just a little, avoiding easily accessible clichés and themes, and that restraint is the hallmark of BLACKsummer’snight. The album opens with the carefully burning Bad Habits, a track that pulses with the kind of soul Robin Thicke is always trying to achieve, and Love You picks up the tempo for a cut that was made to be performed live (I can just see the crowd swooning now). I’ll even throw in Cold, an extended jam that has a compelling and quiet energy. The album is short, only nine tracks, but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Thankfully.
BLACKsummers’night proves that Maxwell can still make astoundingly thoughtful and elegant music, which is exactly what always stopped me from fully connecting with him. Maxwell sings about love, and on this album in particular about heartbreak, but in Maxwell’s world love and loss are always measured, poetic, clean. His seeming refusal to explore the messier side of love, the uncontrollable lust and joy and pain that are the hallmarks of real relationships, has always frustrated me, and it continues to frustrate me here. Just take Fistful of Tears, the most overtly emotional cut on the album and a track that builds but never reaches climax, largely because he seems unable or unwilling to push his voice to a point where it could even possibly break, choosing instead to stay in his vocal comfort zone. It’s a problem that’s compounded on the up-tempo Help Somebody, a dense track that was his opportunity to truly cut loose, but is instead transformed into an inspiring but ultimately bland offering. Maybe Maxwell sees himself as an antidote to the often overly testosterone fueled world of modern R&B, or maybe he simply isn’t capable of creating such dynamic and complicated music, but either way, in my mind the same restraint that makes him great will also always keep him out or R&B’s truly elite circle. So while BLACKsumers’night will deservedly earn a place in my stereo, eventually I will exhaust its possibilities. And when I do, I’ll put in D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Even after all these years, I always get the last word.
Listen to More: Maxwell Written by Nathan S.
More From Maxwell
Submit a Review and/or Rating
Member Reviews and Ratings
Average Member Rating: Total Ratings: 6
DJ Booth Crew
Let's just assume Maxwell did some serious soul searching during his hiatus because he really came with a shockingly impressive mature and grown outlook on music for this comeback album. "BLACKsummers'night" is an extraordinary piece of work and after indulging myself in it the past few weeks, I've realized that there was never a reason to doubt Maxwell's ability to produce some of the most authentic R&B music in today's day and age, even after eight long years.
The album's melodies, song structure, and overall direction all meshed together nicely in a way that showcased Maxwell's undying influence in music (#1 on the charts with 300,000+ copies sold...come on!). Sure, we waited for 37 minutes of music in nearly a decade but that is far from the point. Hopefully Maxwell's successful resurgence will finally inspire D'Angelo and Lauryn Hill to finally reclaim their spots atop the who's who of R&B. Until then, I'll be waiting for Maxwell's two new albums.
|Posted on Jul 21, 2009|
DJ Booth Member
Total Ratings: 213
This is a perfect comeback album for Maxwell. All the songs are good (most are great), and Maxwell's voice flows perfectly with the good production. I hope we hear more from Maxwell in the future. I am a HUGE fan of neo-soul and this did not dissapoint.
4.5 out of 5
My favorite tracks were "Pretty Wings", "Bad Habits", "Stop the World", and "Fistful of Tears".
Maxwell is my 2nd favorite R&B artist, after D'ANGELO...I consider Voodoo to be a classic neo-soul album and I'm waiting for his supposed comeback I keep hearing about.
|Posted on Jul 22, 2009|
DJ Booth Crew
Total Ratings: 334
Only 8 songs =[
|Posted on Jul 28, 2009|
Total Ratings: 4267
'My First Neo-Soul/RnB Purchase'
Maxwell ends the guesswork over his long exile with a return-to-kingdom album. Maxwell’s music has a very grown up feel to me. Songs that speak of love, adoration, anticipation, pleasure and pain are complemented by contagious hooks that sink deeper with each revisit. Just like smoke that's in no hurry to leave the room, they are loaded with pregnant expression amidst all the leisure-groovy instrumentation.
“Pretty Wings” begins with Asian chimes and speaks of a love lost. It is melodious, smooth, deep and vocally flawless and a track that makes me want to by-pass puppy love and get right into the thick of love. His songs content and voice are unmatched quality.
No other song is an initially breathtaking as "Pretty Wings". However, after that initial realisation, on second and third listens, you begin to appreciate the album for what it is. The realness of the music cannot be debated, with an impressive lineup of instruments used, from organ to trumpet, trombone to saxophone.
“Cold,” is a horn infused track where Maxwell explains that some women are just cold-hearted, but he does it with it a cool jazz feel.
"Fistful of Tears" and "Playing Possum" are another stand outs, keeping with Maxwell’s meaningful and minimalistic word style. Ending with an instrumental, "Phoenix Rise" is what you can call 'funk meets Ibiza' in instrumental mode.
According to Nathan - it might not be topping Maxwell’s previous work, but it definitely stays true to his style. And we have another two almost-guaranteed albums to look forward to from him. With his delicate voice, smart song arrangement and his talent for writing, the Maxwell drought is over and if once you get pass the number of songs on BLACKsummer’s night, you’ll see it was worth the wait.
1. Pretty Wings
2. Bad Habits
3. Love You
4. Help Somebody
|Posted on Aug 28, 2009|
|Posted on Jan 10, 2010|
|Posted on Jun 29, 2010|
TOP 20 MUSIC CHARTS
The top rated new Hip Hop & R&B songs on DJBooth, updated every Sunday.