Album Review: Eric Benét ‘The One’
Eric Benét has long held firm to his vintage R&B style, but he has said that his latest record is a very contemporary offering, which should be a great thing because this kind of music has certainly seen a lot of advancement over the last twenty years or so and it’s high time that Benét left his comfort zone. Unfortunately, the difference isn’t completely apparent, and as a person who has listened to Benét’s entire catalog I can’t say for certain that a perceptible change has been made here at all.
It’s a 12 song album, with a bonus track bumping it up to about an hour in length, and it’s the first record to be released by Benét’s newly founded label, Jordan House Records. It’s a smooth, 70s soul record, which is exactly what one should expect from Benét, and so long as one doesn’t go into it with the expectation of something more than that they shouldn’t be disappointed.
The album opens with ‘Harriett Jones’, a song issuing an apology for infidelity, which sets the tone for this album as one which will be perhaps more raw and nude than Benét’s previous recordings. It draws allusion to the classic ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, but the destination here is, rather than Heaven, the arms of an estranged lover he has wronged.
The One winds up being much sweeter and simpler than that, though, and probably a lot less autobiographical, as it goes on to offer one vaguely relatable love song after the next. This is something of a letdown after the opener, and that makes for the second promise the album has broken– the first being that it would have a more modern sound– and we’re only one track in.
‘News for You’ begins in a dream, and builds into a groovy celebration without losing its ethereal nature. It’s a predictable journey though, produced by way of a blueprint for exactly what this sort of song is supposed to sound like.
‘Real Love’ is the first single, and probably the sexiest track on the record. Benét channels Prince and reaches high with his falsetto. Typically, his songs are more romantic than sexual, and this one has the sound of something a bit more exploratory, but he plays it safe and keeps his musings above the waist.
Lil Wayne makes a surprising appearance on ‘Red Bone Girl’, and maybe this is what Benét meant when he said this was a contemporary record. It seems like an awkward pairing at best, as the song switches gears to a stripped down beat for Weezy’s completely out of place cameo. There is just about no common appeal between these two artists, Eric Benét being a soft and somewhat conservative crooner, and Lil Wayne being infinitely less thoughtful, if not pointlessly crude and obtuse. “I’d really like to… kiss your strawberry, and then see if we can, uh… see if we can make some fruit juice. If you know what I mean.” His appearance on this album is almost cause to question Benét’s integrity.
The album gets more interesting towards the end. ‘Hope That It’s You’ features the first time I’ve heard Shaggy’s voice in a while, and it’s also one of the more interesting songs on the record, with a reggae groove helping to break things up a bit more.
‘Muzik’ features Eric’s daughter, India Benét, and it’s a real funky tune, once again just interesting enough to put a bandage over the problem of what has up to this point been an overly plodding album.
‘Lay It Down’ is the closest the record gets to the contemporary fusion with classic sensibilities and songwriting that Benét says he was shooting for with this release, and it sounds great. The song definitely stands out as something different, but this should have been the first track, and as the second to last… it’s just too late.
‘Here in My Arms’ is a beautiful, tender song, and a worthy closer. Still, the Disney-inspired strings are only interesting here because there doesn’t happen to be another song like it on the record, while in a greater musical vocabulary the song works from a prefab schematic, like just about everything else on The One.
There isn’t anything new about this record at all. It’s the same formula Benét has used through his entire career, and for most listeners it may rightly be disregarded. Another recent album I reviewed here at Concert Tour, R. Kelly’s Write Me Back, accomplishes everything The One sought to, and having the luxury to listen to them next to each other reveals just how staggeringly far behind Eric Benét is.
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Image Courtesy of Jordan House