Maxwell has thrived quietly in the peripheries by repelling deconstruction, instead adding gradually and subtly to a successful practicum of soul music. To an objective ear his releases have an unerring consistency, sometimes unswerving sound that assuages rather than thrills. ‘blackSUMMERS’night’, his fifth studio release and the second in a planned trilogy of LPs, continues that tradition, managing the feat of sounding like a signature Maxwell creation whilst traversing a new plane of foreboding electronic soul.
Lyrically Maxwell revisits tried and tested themes of love, forgiveness, faith and sex, retaining the bachelor-esque detachment that has become his commodity. He circumvents these themes as streams of consciousness, choosing to muse with abstract strokes, doing away with traditional song structure. It’s a good thing, the record cohesive in its wistfulness, even if it does venture one too often into arcane terrains. Yet his approach to all-encompassing love is still as receptive as ever. Opener ‘All The Ways Love Can Feel’, invokes the frenetic energy of peak Prince, a shuffling percussion base driving a jazz and funk fusion. Declarations of love as a healer and a unifier, all fuzzy and unstinting serving as Maxwell’s re-introduction, picking up from his last record with poise.
It’s not all served up on a platter for easy consumption, and it makes the LP markedly more gratifying. Take ‘Lake By The Ocean’ — what starts off as coffee suite number goes a bit outré from the bridge onwards, featuring an undulating droning sound and an icy tinge of atmospherics, Maxwell’s landscape of redemptive love more striking as a result. ‘Hostage’ flits from a sweet lament of subservience, into an angrier invocation of dependency in a relationship. Whilst Maxwell revels in being esoteric, it’s necessary for the listener to be reminded that Maxwell is a premier enabler of emotion. Take ‘Lost’, a rock-infused number that benefits profoundly from the graininess of his lower register, singing through the pain of a former lover and her newfound happiness with another man.
‘blackSUMMERS’night’ retains Maxwell’s sense of wonder and allure while opening him up to a new wave of electronic ambience, a natural haven for the singer when you remember his unjustly panned record ‘Embrya’. This is still an intrinsically Maxwell record, but he navigates familiar tropes through friction and distressed noir-soul, the cohesiveness of the record all the more commendable as a result.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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