It’s throwback Thursday… or Saturday… either way, it’s definitely the right idea to pump up your speakers, pour yourself a drink and chuck on George Benson‘s cover of ‘This Masquerade‘. You will be transported back to 1976 with the sexy, slowed-down vibe and Benson’s smooth soprano voice. Benson was not well known for his vocals, but ‘This Masquerade’ was an early occurrence of that sultry voice – and what better way to showcase it but by operating in unison with the muted tones of the jazz guitar melody. The song then eventually settles into a slow, funky groove with Al Green-esque ballad style vocals lamenting about some unrequited love. It is not hard to see how ‘This Masquerade’ catapulted Benson and his 1976 album Breezin‘ into the stratosphere of the easy listening / R&B pop charts of the 1970s. It also set the mark for many more vocal/guitar hit releases from Benson, such as ‘Give Me The Night‘ and ‘Turn Your Love Around‘.
There’s something special about Benson’s style on this song. Arguably, it’s ‘easy’ for easy listening / ballad R&B songs to blend together (think Billy Ocean…) and it often becomes impossible to separate individuality from the heavily-populated library of overly cheesy, generic “soul” ballad music. But here lies an exception. So much soul is invested into the construction of the melody and harmony that it is difficult not to want to get up and dance around to George Benson. So disregard your innate aversion to cheesy 70s ballads and give ‘This Masquerade’ a listen…
On August 30 this year, R&B/soul singer-songwriter John Legend dropped his latest LP Love In The Future. The album is reportedly a collection of autobiographical love songs written in the wake of Legend’s recent marriage to Sports Illustrated model Chrissy Teigen. I think the “love” theme certainly comes out on this album. Perhaps a little too much… I’ve always had mixed feelings about Legend. I love certain collaborations (such as with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Malik Yusef, Alicia Keys) where his voice just seems to shine and hold its own place in the music, but when I listen to his solo records none of that uniqueness is present. Although produced by Yeezy himself, Love In The Future gives me the same feeling – even after several listenings I feel nothing, if not slightly sick of over-used conventional chord progressions. The songs on Love In The Future have too much of a pop rock sound and feel way too over-produced, which dampens the rawness and imperfection that I associate with good R&B and soul.
If I had to choose a standout track I’d pick ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ (ft Rick Ross). Rick Ross provides a little interest to an otherwise uninspiring repetitive soul hook and too much auto-tune with his verse (rife with social commentary about the idea of excess within the hip hop game). I feel like Kanye is relying on his old trick of sampling a bar or two of a classic soul track and expecting Legend’s voice to take the song somewhere, which definitely isn’t happening. With 16 tracks squashed into this hour-long album, I think Legend could have written four tracks and achieved the same effect on Love In The Future.
To sum up, I was not overly impressed with this album. Maybe Legend should leave the neo-soul thing to the masters and go live on an island with his bikini model wife.