by: Maxwell

Maxwell is a gifted record-maker, which isn't necessarily the same thing as a gifted songwriter. He has a nice, sweet voice, a healthy love for classic soul from Marvin to Prince, an appealing arty streak largely missing from contemporary R&B, and he can arrange his self-recorded productions quite alluringly, balancing the guitars, synths, drum machines, and horns nimbly, often coming up with fresh songs. If only his songs were as memorable as his sounds! True, Now is more song-centric than his previous releases, barring possibly his debut, but this is still well-crafted mood music in which the overall seductive sound matters more than what he's saying specifically. That's part of the reason why his cover of Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" (revived here after being debuted on his MTV Unplugged) is so startling -- it's not just that he's picked an unlikely source for a great cover, but it's the one time that he marries his sumptuous sound to a song with substance. That's not to say that Now is a bad record -- it's hard to call anything that sounds this good a bad album -- but it's held back by Maxwell's emphasis on sound over song. If he were just making mood music, that would be acceptable, but he's trying to live up to the tradition of Marvin and Prince, and while his productions often live up to that legacy, he has yet to write songs memorable enough to truly justify those comparisons. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.