Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Van Hunt - Popular

As some of you may have heard, Van Hunt has been dropped from Blue Note/EMI. This does not come as much of a surprise since EMI was one of the latest of the Big Four to have massive layoffs and his previous two albums, Van Hunt and On The Jungle Floor, failed to garner much attention. In such hit-starved times, Mr. Hunt would eventually be the odd man out. The news of his departure from Blue Note came only several weeks before his third LP, Popular, was to drop, leaving the album's release date in limbo.

I can't say how much of a shame it is since Popular is one of the finest albums I have heard in this young year. Building on the wild and daring attitude of On The Jungle Floor, Popular continues in the same boundless vein with a collection of dark and sexy songs sure to please his fans.

Van Hunt's kinkier side has been hinted at in a few songs and the sound of his compositions have never lacked sex appeal, but he has become more explicit in his thoughts. Before, Hunt simply replied "Yeah" three times to a woman who asked him "If I take you home, will you still respect me in the morning?"
This time around, he simply states, "I wanna fuck you baby" in the deliciously funky "The Lowest 1 Of My Desires", which is just begging for a DFA or CSS remix. On the leadoff track, "Turn My TV On", he even sings of watching porn. This is not the same reserved Van Hunt we first saw on his debut album, and it is all the better for listeners who liked to be challenged. With the combination of sex, funk, major keys and abstract pop melodies, I kept thinking of Prince's 1986 album, Parade. The quirky but rooted "Ur Personal Army" and "Blood From A Heart Of Stone" would be right at home on Paraade and fit right in with that album's sense of erotic dazzle and overall boldness. "There's Never A G'Time 2 Say G'Bye" is a ballad that evokes the same minimal yet powerful spirit that Prince's "Sometimes It Snows In April" carries and firmly states the case for Van Hunt as one of the best ballad writers in the business ("What Can I Say", "Mean Sleep", "The Night Is Young"). The fact that a ballad does not derail such a lively album is a credit to Hunt's songwriting abilities and arrangements.

As much as I love Van Hunt, there is very little commercial appeal to this album and could possibly be one of the reasons why EMI chose not to release it. It doesn't make things any easier when an artist you're trying to market as R&B delivers an album closer (the beatuiful "Finale [It All Ends In Tears"]) that's a combination of the Beach Boys and calypso. Granted, there have been freak occurrences where good, challenging urban music has reached a wide audience (see: Outkast, Gnarls Barkley), but that doesn't happen very often. Popular is all over the place, but it truly is a sad day in the music business when there is not a place for an album this strange yet brilliant.

Even though there is not yet an album to purchase, I would still like to share a few songs from the album with you. "N The Southern Shade" is a melding of rock and soul which never ventures too far into either side. It's the kind of mellow song you play while sitting on the porch, knocking down a few cold ones as the sun sets over the Pearl River. "Ur A Monster, Parts 1 & 2" is more representative of the divergent sound of Popular. It starts off as a simple acoustic number that could easily be in the background for a scene in Grey's Anatomy, but at the halfway point, it develops into a restrained groove with a few added horns, and still maintains the calm mood of the earlier part of the song.

"N The Southern Shade"

"Ur A Monster Parts 1 & 2"

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