With singles and ringtones dominating the market over the last several years, it hasn’t been an album game for a long time; so, artists are no longer expected to deliver whole albums of brilliance. Much like the 50s and early 60s halcyon days of hit 45s and afterthought albums loaded with uninspired filler, if customers get four or five good songs on a 10 to 18 track R&B album, they are expected to be happy. Historically, Musiq Soulchild bucked these trends, but with the notable exception of his last gem of an album, OnMyRadio, he too has joined the bandwagon. Since Soulstar (some may argue since Juslisen), Musiq’s latter career albums have fallen more in line with his contemporaries by dropping blazing radio singles but albums dominated by tepid and utterly forgettable filler.
With singles and ringtones dominating the market over the last several years, it hasn’t been an album game for a long time; so, artists are no longer expected to deliver whole albums of brilliance. Much like the 50s and early 60s halcyon days of hit 45s and afterthought albums loaded with uninspired filler, if customers get four or five good songs on a 10 to 18 track R&B album, they are expected to be happy. Historically, Musiq Soulchild bucked these trends, but with the notable exception of his last gem of an album, OnMyRadio, he too has joined the bandwagon. Since Soulstar (some may argue since Juslisen), Musiq’s latter career albums have fallen more in line with his contemporaries by dropping blazing radio singles but albums dominated by tepid and utterly forgettable filler. MusiqintheMagiq, his sixth studio album is no exception to this rather underwhelming rule, but the four songs selected by Atlantic Records to promote are actually each worth their hype. There’s even a good song or two to spare.
Despite eight Billboard Top 10 R&B and three Top 40 hits, Musiq has never had a #1 hit R&B or pop hit (no, not even “Love”). He has had all but two albums peak at #1 on the Billboard R&B charts. Too hip hop soulful for crossover pop, Musiq has still earned industry bonafides through two platinum and two gold albums and an eye-popping 11 Grammy nominations. As the album sales declined (his last failing to reach gold), Musiq has moved further away from making whole albums of amazing songs and begun to chase fleeting radio trends, culminating in the universally panned single “Radio” in 2008. Despite this indefensible blip in judgment, Musiq’s last album, OnMyRadio, marked a return to the kind of music that made Aijuswanaseing and Juslisen the neo-soul standards for which all his subsequent releases are forever measured. In contrast, MusiqintheMagiq finds the Philly Soul Prince resuming his chase of trendy elements on the album cuts, but blessedly staying true to what fans most love about Musiq on the project’s singles.
The Central Line sampled lead for the project, “Anything” feat. Swizz Beatz, may have seemed a fairly routine radio release when it first hit the marketplace, in much the way Jaheim’s “Ain’t Leavin’ Without You” did last year. But both up-tempo jams work much better in the context of their albums. Long-time Wyclef Jean producer, Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis, gets credit for properly lacing the “Walking into Sunshine” soft funk around Musiq’s signature sing-talk style, providing a much needed two-step break in an album heavy on mellow, mid-tempo grooves.
The follow-up single for MusiqintheMagiq seems to be the deservedly exalted “Yes,” but bloggers have also latched on to “Dowehaveto” with good cause. Both gossamer ballads are classic Musiq Soulchild. Lyrically rooted in relationship realism with emotionally compelling hooks, either can take its place among a list of great songs that made Musiq second only to R. Kelly as the balladeer to beat of his generation. There’s a greatest hits package just in Musiq’s love and relationship singles: “Love,” “Dontchange,” “Halfcrazy,””WhoKnows,” “TeachMeToLove,””SoBeautiful,””Chocolate High,””Ifyouleave” and last year’s sumptuous “Sobeautiful,” not to mention a rack of album cuts like “143,” “Reallove,” “Momentinlife” and “Previouscats” that make any Musiq concert a memorable stroll down lover’s lane. Warm, yet firmly declarative with a chorus and string section worthy of any PIR great, “Yes” is easily the album standout with the gorgeously orchestral “Dowehaveto” trailing just a millisecond behind.
Produced by Element (Cee-lo Green), “Silver & Gold” is the kind of live feeling, retro soul cut Musiq has tried to conquer with mixed results (think “Religious” and “Betterman”) but which this time works thanks to a catchy arrangement, punchy horn charts, and a considerably more confident falsetto vocal by the music man. Speaking of which, Musiq doesn’t have one of his epic mountain climbing falsetto cuts on MusiqintheMagiq, but his false and the transitions between it and his melismic tenor have never sounded more consistent and sure.
It’s the vocal as much as the heart palpitating lyrics that make “Medicine” a missed singles opportunity on an album of few missed opportunities. The directive guitar and drum cut is an ironed out Teddy Pendergrass ballad with all the promising testosterone but none of the gruff growls. “Medicine” isn’t listed as a potential release in the album promos, but it should.
The rest of the mid-tempo heavy album is solid driving music, smooth and occasionally spacey (“Like The Sun”) but unexceptional. Musiq’s underplayed departure on MusiqintheMagiq from long-time neo-Philly soul collaborators that helped build his star, including Carvin “Ransum” Haggins, Ivan “Orthodox” Barias, and James Poyser, can be felt in soundscapes heavy on auto-tune, synthesizer, hip hop effects and, in the case of “Waiting Still,” entirely too much reverb. Of course, this makes sense given that Jesse “Corporal” Wilson of Ne-Yo fame is the only producer on MusiqintheMagiq who didn’t cut his teeth in hip hop. Fresh hitmakers Element, Lil Ronnie, Arden “Keyz” Altino, and Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis do alternately inspired and serviceable jobs depending on the cut, but don’t deliver Musiq a classic project, too often indulging the star’s mind-numbing penchant for sameness. All of which would be fine by today’s standards, if only we didn’t have so many classic Musiq moments to remind us of the possible. Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson