Magazine article Newsweek

What's Goin' on (in R&B)?

Magazine article Newsweek

What's Goin' on (in R&B)?

Article excerpt

Byline: Seth Colter Walls

If you're doing quality work within a genre, you don't tend to declare it dead. And then there's Maxwell, the R&B singer whose pouffy Afro and history-conscious music made him a leading sex symbol of '90s neo-soul. "Is there even such a thing as R&B anymore?" he asks. "Hip-hop has completely absorbed it. I have no problem with that." Even if this is a politic acknowledgement of reality, it's a good thing he doesn't mind. Maxwell just released his first new album in eight years: the awkwardly titled BLACKsummers'night. Turns out he's changed, too.

After his platinum debut in 1996 and a No. 1 record in 2001, Maxwell dropped out of the game. The explanation is human enough: he wanted a life outside the industry. "People who do get a great deal of success, they start to buy into the conditional aspect of that love," Maxwell says. "I'm so happy that I didn't lose the real idea of who I am." By the time he began recording new material, Maxwell was digging acts like Radiohead and Fleet Foxes. So while his music is still grounded in '70s soul, there are stray hints of expanded listening habits. The interplay between electric guitar and horns on the standout track "Help Somebody" goes beyond Green and Gaye, though you suspect the old masters would approve. And where his songs once seemed more jammy than rigorously composed, there's a pleasing tightness to Maxwell's latest. At 38 minutes, it's the rare return that's confident enough to be concise. …

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