Maxwell spent part of the eight years between his third and fourth studio albums walking the Earth, attempting to experience a life resembling that of a human. One of neo-soul's most visible faces, along with Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo, he had been on the music industry's hamster wheel for most of his twenties and needed some tangible inspiration. At some point he got down to scheming and quite a lot of recording; BLACKsummers'night is the first release of a trilogy, with BlackSUMMERS'night (rooted in gospel, with a twist, apparently) and Blacksummers'NIGHT (promised as a disc of slow jams) to follow.
When Maxwell stepped inside Bowery Digital to begin laying down tracks for BLACKsummers’night, I wonder if he intuited that he was about to reach a new pinnacle of excellence in his career. I also wonder how long ago he actually began recording this album. For the past three years, at least, listeners have eagerly awaited the release of a new Maxwell record.
After an eight-year absence, neo-soul pioneer Maxwell is back - and, boy, is it good. The first album in a planned trilogy, BLACKsummers'-night marks a subtle evolution in his sound. He's not doing anything radically different, but his maturity and years of experience writing heartfelt ballads set him apart from contemporary soul singers who come off as cheesy or crude.
Heartbreak is a constant in popular music, and with good reason; Maxwell is among the billions across the globe who have had their hearts broken at one time or another, but his latest record, BLACKsummers'night, is a deeply moving and evocative record that finds the singer expounding on this universal feeling like few can. The record misses frequent collaborator Stuart Matthewman and initially has an almost underwhelming live-performance feel when compared with his older records. But while it lacks the iconic significance of his debut, BLACKsummers'night is a record more than worthy of Maxwell's talents, because it trades the physical sensuality of his earlier work for a deep emotional resonance, the performance of an artist whose focus and attention to detail gives his expression a singular veracity.
In the cult 1986 Disney sci-fi flick Flight of the Navigator,? a young boy is beamed up to an alien spaceship and returned in what feels like minutes, only to find that eight Earth years have passed in his absence. Neo-soul singer Maxwell’s disappearance undoubtedly has a more terrestrial cause, but he too seemed to fall off the edge of the planet for eight long years, following the release of his last album, 2001’s Now — ?and is reemerging in 2009 to a very different musical landscape from the one he left. Judging by BLACKsummers’night‘s buttery, intimate bedroom grooves,? the Brooklyn-born crooner has changed surprisingly little in the near-decade interim, beyond shearing off his trademark cloud of coffee-colored hair.
In the two decades since Marvin Gaye was murdered by his father there have been a host of pretenders to his throne, among whom Maxwell is potentially the best. Potentially since, 13 years after Urban Hang Suite, the Brooklyn man's impossibly gorgeous debut album which charted a relationship in its entirety, he has yet to equal its poetic pillow talk, lavish orchestration and sweat-free delivery. Sonically, his followup, Embrya, oozed class plus, in an abject bid to denote depth, a slew of song titles (Gestation: Mythos/Everwanting: To Want You to Want – and that's just one track) that would have been rejected by Rick Wakeman for being too overblown.
It's one of the best things you'll hear all year. Daryl Easlea 2009 There is a school of thought who believes soul music finished in 1972 and then those who feel all new soul should sound as if it comes from before the same date. Thanks heavens for Maxwell. Only his fourth album and his first in eight years BLACKsummers'night has no such preconceptions and nor should its listeners.
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.