#467: BLACKsummers’night, Maxwell
Firstly, I feel compelled to point out that Maxwell’s real name is Gerald Rivera, which is just one letter away from Geraldo Rivera.
But this is not, in fact, Geraldo Rivera. Maxwell propelled the Nineties neo-soul craze (see D’Angelo and Erykah Badu), and this record was released after a whole eight years of silence. Though Maxwell begs to differ, calling the hiatus “eight years of actual life experience! You know, it wasn’t about just me sitting in a room trying to fabricate some scenarios so I could meet my quota and not miss my boat.” I was just talking to one of my writer friends about this, about how artists tend to lock themselves inside their own heads and forget to actually get experiences to write about.
Maxwell says this time away helped him gain both perspective and direction — he was already talking about how this record was the first of a planned trilogy. But he decided to take his sweet time with that, too: BLACKsummers’night was put out in 2009, and blackSUMMERS’night in 2016. (Unfortunately, the second album got slightly worse reviews.) And no, blacksummers’NIGHT has not been released yet, though he’s been promoting it since 2018. I guess he’s still gathering up life experiences!
Maxwell says that a relationship was largely the inspiration for this album, so like many other neo-soul records, this is mostly a record of love songs. I think my favorite thing about neo-soul is that even though they usually have massive, powerhouse voices, they know exactly when to pull back, and let a tender love song speak for itself. See his mastery of dynamics on “Prettywings” and “Loveyou,” as well as things like his insane vocal run on sex jam “Stoptheworld”: I neeeeeeeeeed you girl. Most impressive moment for me was “Fistfuloftears,” where he layers his own voice into several different explosive melodies over an extremely 2000s piano part.
This record was co-produced with his friend, the musician Hod David. (Is that a real name or a stage name? The Internet is mysteriously silent on Hod David’s deal, excepting in relation to Maxwell. I do love this video talking about their friendship, though.) David not only produced, but played various instruments, including the guitar. I was struck by the complexity of his backing tracks on songs like “Badhabits” and “Cold,” which sounds like it’s being played underwater in parts. Then there’s the instrumental finale, “Phoenixrise,” which sounds like it’s being played from a spaceship and is also my favorite track on the album. But “Playingpossum” is understated, featuring just a Spanish-style acoustic guitar part, Maxwell’s vocals, and a lonesome horn. Get you a producer who can do both.
Finally, I’ve read a few of Maxwell’s interviews, and is it wrong to say that I just really like him? He seems like a really empathetic, kind guy! That interview above has him talking about gender politics in a really evolved way — and that was back in 2009! See also “Helpsomebody” on this record. And also, for some weird reason, the last line of his US Magazine feature charmed me: “My favorite thing about what I do is the people I get to do it with.” Aww, Maxwell! Wishing him all the good things, and can’t wait for blacksummers’NIGHT’s release in 2045.
Addendum: I couldn’t find much more about this (as I think Maxwell is extremely private) but apparently he had serious vocal surgery shortly after this record’s release. Hope he’s doing well!