Maxwell, ‘blackSUMMERS’night’ Well Worth the Wait
Maxwell remains consistent, while successfully tweaking his sound to embody the times
Sometimes greatness takes time and can’t be rushed. Greatness perfectly characterizes Maxwell. Additionally, a prolonged amount of time between albums also nails Maxwell perfectly. After an eight-year hiatus between Now and BLACKsummers’night, seven more years elapsed before Maxwell released blackSUMMERS’night. Luckily, it’s well worth the wait.
Opener “All the Ways Love Can Feel” is best described as euphoric, exuding the utmost optimism. Maxwell embraces love and its tremendous possibilities. Groovy, incorporating something of a neo-disco sensibility, “All the Ways Love Can Feel” sets the bar high.
“Nevertheless, never settle for less / higher I go, I’m never quenched / even though life never goes so right / do what you feel”
– “All the Ways Love Can Feel”
Maxwell experiences a range of emotions on “The Fall.” “The Fall” plays up the four seasons. Towards the end, Maxwell parallels love, time, and seasonal transition. “Forgive me for waiting so long / for taking the time to rise and destroy,” he sings.
On “Ill,” Maxwell’s vocals are incredibly assertive, popping out of the production. The usually poised vocalist showcases edge, suitable for the slick, mid-tempo number. Maxwell shares the desires of his heart:
“Cupid keeps targeting me / arrows are flying, I can’t see / I just want a Michele Obama lady / to hold me down, when the world’s crazy”
In addition to Maxwell’s openness, the production sounds more open, incorporating synths and drum programming complementing the acoustic touches.
“Lake By The Ocean” is a Juggernaut
Despite a “superb supporting cast,” single “Lake By the Ocean” remains the song to beat. “Lake By the Ocean” is classic Maxwell, radiantly saturated with neo-soul cues. While “Lake By The Ocean” hearkens back to the glory days of the neo-soul movement, it’s not anachronistic. The authenticity cultivated is irreplaceable.
“Fingers Crossed” follows a juggernaut, but flexes consistency, while simultaneously flaunting lush orchestration. Maxwell opens himself up to a relationship, in hopes that she’ll do the same:
“Maybe your love is just a big mistake / maybe our love was just a world away / if you get the courage baby / one day, someday, probably, maybe / you’ll be mine, all mine”
– “Fingers Crossed”
Maxwell grows infinitely more romantic on “Hostage.” Clearly infatuated by newfound love, he declares, “You are the object I get lost in / I am falling hostage.” He’s clearly allowed himself to be overcome with love.
“1990X” Gives “Lake By The Ocean” a ‘run for its money’
When it doesn’t seem like blackSUMMERS’night could get any better, it does. “1990X” gives “Lake by the Ocean” a ‘run for its money.’ Maxwell is a master of bedroom songs. The lush “1990X” expands his legacy:
“Lay here closely beside me / feel my heart as it’s pounding / I can climax with reason / cause we’re grown and we own it”
Clearly sensual-minded, Maxwell is tasteful in his approach, not lascivious. “Gods” doesn’t miss a beat. He offers everything he has to his woman, but she’s unreceptive, unsatisfied, ultimately holding the fate of the relationship in her hands:
“The answers don’t ever make no sense / when the questions are up to you”
Maxwell mourns love lost on the dramatic “Lost.” He amazingly allows his voice to crack, hence, amplifying the pain of love’s wilderness. “Of All Kind” contrasts, with the inescapable falsetto employed once more. He elevates the woman on a pedestal and likens her to God (“You’re the God in my mind / you’re the highest high / of all kind”). Interestingly, “Of All Kind” has a smidgen of gospel influence, further augmenting the magnificence.
Maxwell returns to his chest voice on the sleek, modern “Listen Hear.” Like “The Fall,” he is self-critical, sharing his anxiety and showcasing vulnerability. Brief instrumental interlude “Night” concludes fittingly and enigmatically.
Once again, Maxwell has outdone himself. blackSUMMERS’night clearly contrasts the first installment but does so in alluring fashion. Where BLACKsummers’night was more readily accessible and representative of post-neo-soul, blackSUMMERS’night branches out more, requiring more of the listener. Is this the year’s best R&B album? It’s a close call, but blackSUMMERS’night gets a slight edge.
Gems: “All the Ways Love Can Feel,” “Lake by the Ocean,” “Hostage,” “1990x,” “Gods”
Maxwell • blackSUMMERS’night • Columbia • Release: 7.1.16