Maxwell – BLACKsummers’night
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: July 7th 2009
I’m a guy who really likes R&B, and some of my favorite artists are R&B, such as Justin Timberlake, Usher, The Weeknd, and Frank Ocean to name a few. I’ve been getting much into modern R&B in the last few months, and when I saw a copy of Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night at Walmart a few weeks ago, I needed to check it out. It said that it was “album of the year” for a few publications on the album sticker, so I was very intrigued by it. When I brought it home, I was quite surprised, because I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. I mean, I’m not surprised I enjoyed it, that’s not the point, but I’ve literally never listened to Maxwell aka Gerald Maxwell Rivera’s music before. I’ve heard of him vaguely, but had never bothered to check it out, for whatever reason. I managed to get a copy of 2009’s BLACKsummers’night for only about $7, I believe, and it was definitely worth it. What I got was 38 minutes of falsetto accompanied to various instruments and a diverse sound that’s still deeply rooted in R&B. I was also surprised when I found out that this record was his first in 7 years, after taking a hiatus from music, so this is very impressive for a returning record, and also mirrors Justin Timberlake’s new record in that respect. Regardless, while it’s not the best record I’ve ever heard, it has a lot of moments that really surprise me, because it’s rather unique, and done quite well. So with that being said, let’s dive into this record, and see why I was so surprised, shall we?
The record begins with “Bad Habit,” and it’s rather funny, because this record is not a bad habit at all; in fact, it starts off nicely, with Maxwell singing softly over a smooth beat. The song starts off with dreamy and smooth R&B, but then it picks up around a minute later, and that’s when things really get started. The song eventually explodes with horns, almost like Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie,” but to a lesser degree, because that song is a lot more arrogant than this one, considering the lyrics are about Maxwell falling for a girl who is a “bad habit,” in the sense that she’s not right for him, but he loves her anyway. This is one of the more straightforward R&B tracks on the record; it seems to switch between pop, and R&B at a lot of points, which is fine, because it keeps the record fresh. The track ends with a really cool instrumental that leads right into the next song “Cold,” which is another interesting track. The whole song has a really cool horn/trombone section, and it really works. It has a very jazzy sound to it, too, despite the lyrics kind of being a warning to people about a woman who is very “cold.” It’s not my favorite song on the record, but it does its job at keeping everything fresh. Third track “Pretty Wings” is my favorite track on the record, because this is another straightforward R&B track, but it works so well. Maxwell may not have the best voice I have ever heard, compared to artists like Justin Timberlake, The Weeknd, or Usher, but he is fantastic, nonetheless. He kind of reminds me of fellow R&B artist Miguel. I recently reviewed his first record All I Want Is You, and this record kind of has a similar sound to it; it fuses a few different genres together, all the while still clinging to R&B. The only main difference is, Maxwell’s lyrics aren’t immature, and actually are very enjoyable to listen to. But my point is, Miguel has a fantastic voice, but it’s not up to par with those other artists, just like Maxwell. This song, on the other hand, really shows off Maxwell’s voice, and it’s absolutely incredible.
The next two songs on the record “Help Somebody” and “Stop the World” have the most interesting lyrics, because they’re not about love, or anything to that degree. Instead, they’re more about helping fellow man, and being a good person, which is something really lacking in music today, especially mainstream music. If anything, I like these songs because they’re very sweet and innocent. They teach a nice lesson, and they don’t do any harm whatsoever. Not to mention, they sound very pleasant as well. These songs are what I meant by the record going more into pop at certain times. The opposite can be said for sixth track “Love You,” which guessing by the title, is a very straightforward love song. You’d be right if you guessed that, by the way. Sadly, though, the last three songs on the record really don’t do much for me. This record is only nine songs, yet it’s 38 minutes, which is quite weird, but it’s not awful, either. It’s a good length, so it works. The last song on the record, which is called “Phoenix Rise,” is an instrumental track, which really ends the album on a quiet note. The instrumental isn’t terribly unique, or terribly interesting, but it does its job as being an outro. This album is very entertaining, and engaging. It’s R&B and pop that’s mixed well together, along with combining a few other outside influences, including a bit of gospel and jazz. It’s a very enjoyable album, especially for someone who is a fan of the genre. It’s not hard to see why this was considered the record of the year for some magazines and newspapers, because it’s definitely worthy of it, but I’m not a huge fan of Maxwell’s voice. It’s not terrible, but it’s nothing like other artists’, either. He’s kind of right in the middle. His voice is nice, but there are other artists who are a bit better, to put it bluntly. The thing that keeps this record afloat, however, is the overall production and instrumentation. The way it sounds overall is great, and it makes sense, because he produced it himself. The instrumentation itself, though, is very unique and engaging at various points. This doesn’t feel like a 38-minute song, but a nice collection of songs that flow well together, the way an album should be.