His trademark afro is gone but when it comes to pure singing and creating hip-shaking and reverberating hits, Maxwell is back. Eight years between albums is an excruciatingly long time for anyone. But Maxwell has approached it all with an exultant demeanor that demands attention.
He was quoted stating that he needed the time off to gather his thoughts and reasoning. Rather than attempting to make a better album than the one before, Maxwell was all about making a great album, period. He’s definitely accomplished this with an addicting brand of soul that recalls the very legends he’s always loved. Lead single “Pretty Wings” shakes with well-suited horns, a tenderly placed string section and lyrics about finding someone special- at the wrong time. Ultimately, Maxwell is romantic, singing, “Your face will be the reason I smile” before he lets her go, “Someone better is going to love you.”
This new album is the first in a trilogy entitled BLACKSUMMER’SNIGHT-each ensuing release will keep the same title, with a different word being capitalized each time out. For his return, BLACKsummers’night is a soulful, lavish album that combines proud R&B along with Maxwell’s gifted singing.
After such a long hiatus, Maxwell made his triumphant return on June 24th at the BET Awards. Rather than performing one of his new songs, he hypnotized the crowd with an outstanding cover of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful.” Not only was everyone amazed that the confident man in front of them was Maxwell himself, but that time hadn’t hindered him in any way. The further proof is on leading song “Bad Habits” and Maxwell’s sensuality. The groove here lies in the celebratory horns that shimmer behind Maxwell’s elated voice; the music pumps with excitement and precision.
It doesn’t hurt that BLACKsummers’night comes out of left-field because at this point, anything would have been a surprise. But honestly, nobody could have expected such a conquering release. “Love You” succeeds on the support of grand piano chords and a rhythmic percussion line. Instead of turning the open-hearted lyrics into a sluggish ballad, Maxwell presents it as an up-tempo groove burner. But in that same sense, he’s vitally exposed with “Playing Possum.” Soft and whispered, only the small remnants of an acoustic guitar and muted drums give way to Maxwell’s peaceful voice.
The closing minutes of “Phoenix Rise” adapt an electronically heavy sound. The only instrumental song on the album, it might be a glimpse of what will come on part two. But in the meantime, we can surely enjoy the alluring charisma that is ubiquitous on part one. When Maxwell asks for help on “Help Somebody,” he modifies his voice to view someone dire and in need. And after the harsh reality that “Cold” is, you can see his point. The latter gels on brassy stomps and resourceful backing vocals while the former propels on the standing of enchanting piano quills and fascinating horn melodies.
A return this resounding seemed anything but imminent from Maxwell. BLACKsummers’night is however, an impressive return to form. This is undeniably enthralling music: masterful, captivating and marvelous. The bar’s been set high for the following installments but it’s something that they can hopefully expand and grow from because as we’ve now witnessed, anything is possible.