Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
From the opening moments of his 1996 debut album, it was clear that Maxwell was about to take soul music in a direction that it had long since turned from. The scratch of needle on vinyl indicated that this was a sound that was more in thrall to the organic, analogue soul of the ‘70s than its flash new cousin hip-hop that had threatened to engulf it entirely. This album—along with Erykah Badu’s Baduizm and D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar—would reinvigorate that classical approach to soul music.
Crafted as the story of a monogamous relationship, it thrust a pristine-piped falsetto into the limelight along with a sensitively romantic take on modern love to the accompaniment of the smoothest sounds this side of 1984. The contributors told the tale of what lay within: Leon Ware (shaper of Marvin Gaye’s late classic album I Want You) drove the sublime groove of “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” and Stuart Matthewman (of Sade) co-penned and produced three tracks with all the panache you would imagine.
Whilst the first half of the album is dominated by magical, mid-tempo, mellow grooves, the second is filled with ballads of varying shades: the indecently sultry “…Till the Cops Come Knockin,’” the divinely angelic “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever” and the quiet storm of “Reunion.” What stands out throughout though is the exquisite beauty of Maxwell’s voice. Much like his musical forefather Marvin Gaye, it found him capable of immense sensitivity and romanticism one minute, whilst preening and strutting like a sexual demigod the next.