Maxwell has artfully managed to transfix music lovers for more than two decades, releasing four studio albums, all in his own time — all duly anointed as classics. Now, the Brooklyn-born soul legend returns with his fifth album, BlackSUMMERS’night, the long-awaited second installment of his trailblazing trilogy, a powerful reminder that great music really is about more than moving the Twitter needle.
Maxwell’s reentry into the pop orbit straddles but never strains the fertile groundwork he’s already laid as an R&B/soul pioneer. His seminal 1996 debut album, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, which The New York Times credited for "turning away gangsta" machismo to reclaim the utopian spirit of 1970s soul has been enthusiastically re-celebrated recently in an avalanche of commemorative articles marking the 20th anniversary of the genre spawning debut.
His last album, 2009’s No. 1 debuting, Grammy-winning BLACKsummers’night and its signature single “Pretty Wings” (which owned the top spot on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart for 4 and a half months), tamped down Chapter 1 of the sensual, pathfinding trilogy. The album landed on most critics’ Year’s Best lists and snared two Grammys, with Rolling Stone praising it as an "album about love, not sex, for grown-ups who know the difference."
With sonic aspirations and priorities intact, and gathering many of the contributors on board for his previous albums, Maxwell says the "operative" driving theme on the new album is "summer." The first single, the stunning “Lake By The Ocean” kick-crosses diced-up drum grooves to the singer’s undulating sensuality. His legendary vocal nuances are even richer now, commanding our attention with less on blackSUMMERS’night, seductively shifting intonation and meaning as he reaches for more than just a reprise on the sequel; a masterfully in charge of his instrument.
It’s all there on songs such as the album’s boogie blast of an opener, “All The Ways Love Can Feel,” and the intensely brewed confessional “The Fall”; on the hopeful “Fingers Crossed,” and bright funk of “III,” where he furtively name-checks Michelle Obama. The free-floating blues-driven “Lost” and “Listen Hear” are also standouts, two songs that Maxwell says simply “flowed through” him in one take.
He credits vigorous recording sessions with his longtime co-producer Hod David as bringing shape to the album. “The times change and the stakes get bigger, but when you’ve worked with the same guy since you were 17 there’s no faking it,” he jokes.
He once famously told Rolling Stone after the release of his debut that everyone he’s ever admired possessed a public vulnerability – "where the sensitivity is right there for you," confessing, even then, that it’s not always easy to come by – that "sacrificing side," as he coined it. It is here where the boundary crossing, inspirational Maxwell has always been the most prescient and approachable; open 24/7 to his long-held notion that the music is in the atmosphere, and that his best work has always channeled him. “Maybe that’s what taking your time is really about,” he ponders nearly 20 years later. “Being available. Ready.”
Maxwell's unmediated connection to his audience has always been the lynchpin of Maxwell’s career. Known for stoking libidinal fires long after his records and concerts subside, the LA Times once shrewdly observed he’s also ‘stayed true to his own internal clock, timing his (musical) pleas as they might unfold in real time,’ rejecting the impulse to falsely heighten any moment.
His 1996 debut masterpiece, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, was the rarest of gems, new and cognizant of the soul-standard bearers who came before. Groundbreaking permutations came in the form of iconic singles such as “Til The Cops Come Knockin’,” and “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” among others.
The then-23-year-old achieved universal praise and double platinum status for his debut, garnering a Grammy nomination. "Maxwell’s MTV; Unplugged" came next, cementing his "auteur" reputation and attracting universal acclaim for his diverse choice of material, including covers of indie breakthrough artists’ Kate Bush and Nine Inch Nails.
He went on to acclaimed platinum-plus successes with 1998’s Embrya, and 2001’s Now, enjoying sold-out tours and an ever-expanding loyal audience more than willing to grow with him.
And they never mind the "wait," which has only deepened the mutual appreciation between Maxwell and his fans. His tight, communal bond with his listeners fuels blackSUMMERS’night, revealing new surprises and aching links to a musical canon that peels back the curtain on love and heartbreak like only Maxwell can.
In June 2018, Maxwell debuted “Never Saw It Coming,” his reflective new song and his first piece of new music since 2016. The song’s music video, "The Glass House," is a chilling music short-film starring Maxwell and activist/actress/model Yomi Abiola. The film was written and directed by JAY-Z collaborators Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz.