Review: Eli Paperboy Reed, ‘Nights Like These’
Reed’s latest LP finds the soulful singer updating his sound
Retro-soul isn’t the most lucrative musical style in 2014. Neither is R&B for that matter. The preservation of soul is incredibly important but doesn’t sell many albums. There’ve been exceptions as a couple of retro-inspired R&B singles have enjoyed radio success as of late. Otherwise, retro-soul styles aren’t the best means of financial success.
That seems to be the thinking that Eli Paperboy Reed arrives at on 2014 LP, Nights Like This. Reed is still incredibly soulful throughout the course of the album, but the artist’s overall ‘classic’ sound has been updated to ‘fit the times’. It’s not completely supplanted, but there is a clear departure from 2010 LP Come and Get It!, which was drenched in retro stylings.
“Well Alright Now” is the first hint of a more contemporary soul approach. Even though it doesn’t sound completely ‘vintage’, there are enough production cues to pinpoint past influences. More noteworthy is the fact Reed is still able to unleash grit and vocal ferociousness. This characterizes his previous work. Losing such might’ve truly compromised his musical persona. Luckily, that’s not an issue.
Reed does show some present-day swagger on “Grown Up” as he informs us that “shit is getting real now,” which seems somewhat antithetical to both the title and Reed’s own perceived clean-cut nature. “Grown Up”, like “Well Aright Now” possesses the influence of classic soul, but also conforms by all means to music a la 2014. “Grown Up” balances pop and R&B soundly, reminiscing the sound of John Newman’s debut, Tribute. Vocally, Reed remains in top-notch form.
If “WooHoo” takes anything from the classic R&B script, it is the feistiness. In fact, “WooHoo” epitomizes being tongue-in-cheek. The sounds of the past are incorporated as well, but there are also some fresh electronic sounds that keep the door to the future ajar.
Title track “Nights Like This” is definitely a feel-good track that manages to fill the obligatory driving-pop track requirement. “Nights like this / you better not miss / if you don’t show up / How we gonna blow up,” Reed sings enthusiastically on the chorus. Initially, it seems more old school given the prominence of the bass, the groove, and even Reed’s vocal approach, but eventually “Nights Like This” sounds as pop as anything else incorporating signature modern-pop cues.
On “Lonely World”, the delicious ostinato piano makes the joint comparable to the past when such was a commonplace musical feature. Vocally, Reed impresses by himself but gets an excellent assist courtesy of superb vocal production that makes his instrument even more spectacular. The songwriting is memorable and the overall spirit is high, making “Lonely World” among the best.
“Shock to the System” keeps the energy lofty, with Reed’s impassioned howls, and highly energetic production. The drums pound hard on “Shock to the System”, truly conveying that “shock” of which the song reference.
A hard beat continues to be a pro on follow-up “Not Even Once”, which adds an instrumental contrast with the use of acoustic guitar. The result is something of a folk-soul and pop combo. It’s not quite as effective as either “Lonely World” or “Shock to the System”, but still puts Reed in a great light. Hey, if nothing else, the repeated “ohs” are infectious.
“Shoes” lays well, though doesn’t particularly distinguish itself from the top echelon numbers. “Ain’t Worth It (Goodbye)” is a bit more of an attention-grabber, if for no other reason than its repetitive whistling. Rather than being ‘desperate’, Reed suggests (alludes) to something more folks ought to do – just say screw it because “it ain’t worth it.” That said, can’t say I’m not guilty.
On penultimate number “Pistol Shot”, Reed continues to flex his pipes. “Pistol Shot” doesn’t quite pay the same respects to Reed’s retro-soul past like some of Nights Like This’ cuts do. It’s more pop-oriented. The tenderness that initiates closer “Two Broken Hearts” is a nice change of pace from “Pistol Shot”. As the cut progresses, the production feels out and Reed’s cutting vocals do what they do – cut and deliver a nuanced, standout performance.
Overall, Nights Like This is a savvy move for Reed’s lucrativeness as an artist. Still, some of Reed’s persona is compromised by his musical makeover. Hardcore fans will miss the stricter classicism.
Gems: “Well, Alright Then,” “Grown Up,” “WooHoo,” “Lonely World” & “Shock To The System”