Lewis Taylor - Lewis Taylor Music Album Reviews

Lewis Taylor - Lewis Taylor Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we revisit a lost gem of neo-soul from 1996 made by a nascent phenom from the UK, heralded by Aaliyah and D’Angelo as one of the greats.

Four days in a New York hotel room and Lewis Taylor hadn’t heard from a soul. He took the eight-hour flight from London at the behest of D’Angelo and his camp to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and now, no knock on the door, no phone call, nothing. Taylor, a self-described neurotic in his early 30s, could only sit and wait for a life-changing opportunity. In New York, no one had even heard of him; his album—a brooding, confounding R&B record that excited UK music journalists but left his label wondering where the hit was—hadn’t been released in the States.

As a child, he inherited his parents’ affection for the tendon-straining R&B shouters of the American South and the smooth, romantic crooners, especially Sam & Dave and Sam Cooke, and thanks to the trippy album artwork on display in a record shop in Hertfordshire, near where he grew up, he discovered prog and psychedelic rock acts like Edgar Broughton Band, Syd Barrett, and Yes. For his debut album, Lewis Taylor, he borrowed from both these fixations to create guitar-driven, structurally ornate tracks that he then blessed with his voice, a svelte tenor that sounded like it had been honed under the tutelage of Marvin Gaye. D’Angelo wanted some of that.

The promise of shaping the myriad ideas mentioned by D’Angelo’s people over the phone—it was difficult to tell which direction they wanted to go in after the success of Brown Sugar—must have felt far away in the hotel room, even though D’Angelo was supposedly somewhere in the vicinity. Taylor wasn’t in the studio, where he expected to be, where he felt comfortable. Frustration mounted. What was the point of enduring this treatment, such blatant disregard for his time and feelings? After four days, he checked out and returned home.

Taylor’s career is one of the most under-discussed in modern R&B history, and this anecdote, which the artist relayed to journalist and scholar Michael Anthony Neal in a 2006 Pop Matters interview, captures his frustrations and difficulties in microcosm. It’s fitting that the interview has been, for all intents and purposes, lost on the internet, only accessible if you excavate using the Wayback Machine or some other archiving project. Unlike white R&B artists like Jon B. or Rick Astley, who found new relevance in the digital cultural memory through Drake adoration and viral pranking, Taylor never found the means to keep his eclectic catalog alive for subsequent generations. It didn’t seem like he much cared to, either; he was content to have a crotchety underdog’s career releasing oblique R&B records that didn’t try to reenact note-for-note the styles of the past or embrace the genre’s meld with hip-hop. After all, this is a guy who, when asked about being a blue-eyed soul singer in a 1997 interview, responded, “Well I suppose the most unintelligent answer I could give to that is ‘fuck off.’” Eventually, the music industry responded in kind.

Initially, though, Taylor cast a spell. On the strength of a demo that had a touch of Al Green’s vocal phrasing, Taylor signed with Island Records and recorded a masterpiece, the self-titled 1996 debut that gathered a cult audience which included two of the most beloved acts in R&B, D’Angelo and Aaliyah. Neal, a professor of African and African American studies at Duke, went so far as to label Taylor “white chocolate” in an academic journal, meaning a white performer of Black music who “legitimately add[s] to the tradition.” Taylor looks different ​​but still “contains all the ‘flava’ and the texture of the original.” (He wrote it, not me.)

Taylor’s skill should be obvious to anyone hearing his voice and guitar-playing, something like if Marvin Gaye merged with Jeff Buckley. But what to do with him? How to market an uptight, limelight-allergic, white neo-soul singer in 1996, before that branding shorthand became commonplace—and well before you could attach, say, Mark Ronson to the project? Island couldn’t figure it out.

In search of an attention-grabbing breakthrough single, the label took a page from the Pat Boone playbook, encouraging Taylor to cover soul classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me” and the Supremes’ “Reflections,” and passed on a completed album he handed over something that was decidedly more Brian Wilson than Jon B. Unable to solve the marketing dilemma and seemingly uninterested in keeping a hit-less wunderkind on their roster, Island dropped Taylor outright after the release of his second album, 2000’s Lewis II.

The biggest hit bearing Taylor’s name is Robbie Williams’ 2006 cover of the brilliant dance tune “Lovelight”—produced by Ronson, of course. Following in D’Angelo’s footsteps, Chaka Khan left Taylor hanging after extending an invitation to collaborate. Eventually he decided to self-release his records until a boutique label swooped in, even convincing him to book his first U.S. tour in 2006. But he played only one date, a well-reviewed Bowery Ballroom show attended by, among others, Stuart Matthewman, of Sade, before bailing on the entire endeavor and retiring.

In 2016, Taylor explained his decision in a candid, sometimes prickly interview on the blog Soul Jones, saying that his pursuit of music had turned him from an “eccentric, slightly arrogant little nerd to an egotistical self-centered little shit.” And, obviously, it couldn’t have been the result of fame; Taylor said that the transformation began before he released his debut. It took standing on the brink of an international tour to realize that if he didn’t walk away from music, he couldn’t change from what he’d become.

Male insecurity—the perhaps harder-to-claim reality coursing beneath the brash egotistical ugliness—is the great subject of Taylor’s music and there’s no better, more engaging expression of that tumult than his self-titled record. The album begins in media res as we listen in on the pleading, bewilderment, and frustration of a breakup in progress. After a tense, patience-testing instrumental introduction, Taylor's first words are, “Tell me what we’re gonna do/I wanna know how we’re gonna pull through.”

Imagine if Let’s Get It On opened with Gaye’s world-ending divorce song “Just to Keep You Satisfied” instead of the title track—that’s the mood, but with less weary resignation and more agitated confusion and anger. Taylor insisted that the blues—“playing six guitar parts at once and singing on top”—inspired his writing during this period more than anything else, and the genre’s plaintiveness (and occasional meanness) suffused his lyrics, too. About four minutes in, Taylor resolves the musical tension by incorporating the kind of layered doo-wop vocals Gaye sculpted with genius (those velvet ooos and la-la-las), while simultaneously activating full son-of-a-bitch mode, singing, “If we don’t make love, it’s over, baby...If we don’t work tonight/Then we just ain’t right.” Not getting laid one last time makes the split real, especially since she’ll be denied his gusto: “If I don’t get lucky, you don’t get lucky too.” A real gentleman, this guy.

There are many abject flavors on this record and the most satisfying comes via the next song, “Bittersweet.” Aaliyah called it perfect; it should be considered a peak of the neo-soul era, spoken about with the same delight and awe reserved for “Untitled,” “On & On” and “Ascension.” (One of the ironies of Taylor’s career is that, despite his whiteness, he still missed out on commercial success, thus avoiding the disdainful “Elvis Effect” of sanitizing Black music for lucrative, history-erasing white consumption.) “Bittersweet” enacts the taste of its title by moving from gloomy to transcendent. The lyrics describe a relationship the very miserable narrator says he wants to leave but can’t muster the courage to end: “I pick up the telephone to say it’s over/Soon as I hear you talk it’s started all over again.” She laughs at him when they make love. His friends have abandoned him, calling him crazy for putting up with this. He is, in short, down bad.

And yet! Rather than wallowing in self-pity, the song finds ecstasy in agony. At first “Bittersweet” is brittle and ominous—the opening piano noises are stark, like something creaking in the attic. The guitar line is sinuous, paranoia-stoking. At intervals, he triggers a stack of his vocals doing something that sounds like an ugly inhale. It doesn’t seem possible that any sweetness could be extracted from this murk. But by the time the bridge begins, there’s no predicting the evolution of these monstrous, conflicted feelings. The thundering piano chords that bring the chorus back sound like church. “Oh, come on/You got me losing my mind,” he wails, his voice coming from somewhere beyond despair or joy. This kind of bad love isn’t novel subject matter, but Taylor’s execution is ambitious enough to blow your hair back. “Bittersweet” so moved Aaliyah that it compelled her in an MTV interview to ask that Taylor “call a sista: let’s hook up, let’s do something.” She had found a copy of his record in Australia.

The songs on the opening side of Lewis Taylor make surprising choices that keep them dynamic and alive. Not a single one ends in a place you could anticipate from the opening minute, and Taylor crafts consistently stunning endings. Some criticism of his second album focused on his “cerebral, convoluted chord structures,” but such extravagances never weigh down Lewis Taylor. “Whoever,” “Track,” “Song”—all have refrains liable to stick with you for days. The latter is so weirdly skeletal at the start, barely more than his voice, clanging percussion, and some bass, and from that emptiness, a massive hook emerges that he lets ride for the final two minutes. It’s an anthem for suckers in love: “Find me weak, find me strong/I get all messed up whenever you call my name.” Male R&B stars in the ’90s increasingly emulated the bravado of hip-hop, but Lewis Taylor offers a kind of emasculated R&B, more excited by self-destructive feelings than pleasure.

Unable to resist a twist, the back half of Lewis Taylor provides a thoughtful repudiation of all that fit-throwing and floundering, signaled by track six, “Betterlove” (and, later, “How” and “Right”). It’s an easy-going ballad with the kind of last-minute key change that screams love triumphant in the face of adversity. “You teach me and I learn about the way a man should be,” Taylor sings, petulant and self-effacing no more. On “Right,” he puts it as laconically as possible: “She’s right and I’m wrong.”

There was a real secret behind the creation of the album that informed these lessons. The record has been portrayed as a Prince-esque solo effort, the lone genius in a studio brimming over with ideas and technical ability. The liner notes billed his manager and romantic partner Sabina Smyth as the executive producer. This undersold her contributions. In the interview where Taylor cleared up rumors about his retirement, he also spoke about collaborating with Smyth. “She was involved in the writing, the arrangements, sounds and textures, and the production [on Lewis Taylor],” he said. “And I didn’t credit her because I was so insecure, immature and self-involved. I would say that the executive producer credit I eventually gave her on that album is patronizing at best.”

There’s an edge in that last line, a whiff of self-loathing. Patronizing at best—like his past behavior still beckons as a lash to use against himself, even after he’s owned up to his mistakes. The sense memory of an indiscretion stays vivid. The mixture of anger, lust, shame, pride, and remorse channeled in Lewis Taylor is as potent as modern R&B has produced. The genre is often at its best when it grapples with the unsavory complexities of the heart, even if the music isn’t as widely palatable when scraping around in the dark corners of a relationship. Here, My Dear was never as popular as Let’s Get It On. It took time to lure its audience.

This has been the year of renewed interest in Taylor. In January, D’Angelo debuted a radio show with Sonos and played a cut from the Japanese release of Lewis Taylor, a strange and beautiful bonus track called “I Dream the Better Dream,” which sounds like In a Silent Way shaking hands with Music of My Mind. “This motherfucker’s a genius, man,” D’Angelo murmured, in his cigarette-husked voice. The discerning British reissue label Be With Records released Lewis Taylor on vinyl in a handsome edition over the summer. And in June, the most unexpected event: the newly launched Lewis Taylor Instagram teased a new album. “After taking a bit of a break, Lewis and Sabina have returned to the studio,” went the caption.

It’s tempting to read “Bittersweet” as a metaphor for Taylor’s relationship with music: a bad love affair that brings as much displeasure as delight. If making music brought him the kind of stress heard on that record, it’s no wonder he needed some long breaks, some soul-searching. But that turmoil is precisely what makes Lewis Taylor a success. The phone stayed silent, that plum collaboration up and evaporated, the single didn’t garner the audience it deserved—these things cease to matter once you press play.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Lewis Taylor - Lewis Taylor Music Album Reviews Lewis Taylor - Lewis Taylor Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 03, 2021 Rating: 5


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