Monday, March 28, 2011
Maxwell - Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (1996)
An album that proves so good that it automatically shoots to your top five favorite albums in all the history of recorded music doesn't come along but once in a blue moon. Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, I can proudly say, is one such record for me - I ran across it as a freshman in high school during an afterparty and fell in love instantly. Nothing in the R&B spectrum post-1989 even comes remotely close to capturing the sensual essence, the groove, that delicious Quiet Storm mood which is so dazzlingly alive in every cut etched into this release, and even the man who made it has been unable to top it since.
In particular, the first half of the album is absolutely perfect, partly because of just how damn spot-on Maxwell himself is behind the mic. His pipes float somewhere in a distant heavenly sphere somewhere between Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, but with an urban flavor all its own that commands the sultry grooves of 'Sumthin' Sumthin' and 'The Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)' and turns them into monsters - even fifteen years later these two pieces are unsurpassed in the R&B/neo-soul spectrum. On the slower side of things, '...Til The Cops Come Knockin'' and 'Lonely's The Only Company (I & II)' are about as good as Quiet Storm can get, complete with spacey saxophones and gorgeous cello flourishes.
On top of all this, there is a method to the sentimental, sexually-toned madness at work here. The Hang Suite itself is like a story, detailing the coupling, break-up, and glorious reunion of two strangers who only find peace and solace from their messed up lives through sporadic rendezvous in cold bedrooms far from home. Everything simmers, and when not reaching a full-blown boil seem to tread toward the brink of melancholia (yet not quite) when the emotions die down. It is through these songs that we ourselves can experience these knowings, and even resonate when we feel like that ourselves.
Although some might disagree, I consider this debut to be neo-soul at its best, and with the exception of some of D'Angelo's material there has yet to be an album in the genre over the last decade which can even begin to measure up to anything you'll find within these musical confines.
Needless to say, if you do not have this then rectify the problem immediamente. Adios!
Listen Here - "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)"