Ten years is a long time. Three thousand, six hundred and fifty days, give or take the odd leap year. Days filled with love, laughter, joy and pain—a whole lot of living. For Van Hunt though, it’s nearly the amount of time he has waited for his third album to see the light of day. After releasing both his eponymous 2004 debut and the 2006 follow-up On the Jungle Floor via EMI’s Capitol Records, his third eagerly awaited album entitled Popular was due to be released on Blue Note Records in early 2008.
Record label shenanigans had different ideas though. For instead of lighting up the firmament, EMI’s troubles resulted in Popular being pulled in late 2007 and locked away in a vault, gathering dust ‘til this day—another victim of a business in decline couple with technological advances that left the industry reeling in a broader, already difficult economic situation.
Given its troubled history, it was far from any of Hunt’s followers’ minds when he tweeted the date “August Eleventh” a few weeks ago, a sure sign that indicated a new album was on the way. Instead we have been blessed by the better-late-than-never release of this vital, surging slice of his soul-funk-rock hybrid.
Where his debut LP was smooth soul music, his sophomore affair On the Jungle Floor offered more glimpses into a granite-edged rock sensibility and a greater degree of Sly Stone influenced funk. On Popular though, those rock and funk facets were forced front and center alongside his other more silky-smooth motions, allowing the full extent of his powers and ambition to be realized. After the banishment of Popular, a disenfranchised Hunt would take his talents and release things independently, unfettered by label politics and free to become even more rock orientated on What Were You Hoping For? in 2011.
Nowhere is his glorious mélange of rock, soul and funk more apparent than on the opening track “Turn My TV On.” A jumping, stop-start punk-funk ode to the dehumanizing qualities of modern life: “Ooh, I’m, ooh, I’m so scared / People outside, people outside / Make me scared / So, I stay in my room, in my underwear.”
An ode to the characterful derriere du jour, “Prelude (The Dimples On Your Bottom)” is the kind of tightly wound, claustrophobic funk in a Sly Stone vein that he would utilize to great effect on his most recent (and thoroughly excellent) album The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets (2015).
As the album progresses, it encompasses a range of styles and subgenres that others can only dream about executing as effortlessly as Hunt does. “N The Southern Shade” is an intoxicating mix of slide guitar and stoop blues sentiment as he reflects on his life as a musician. “There’s Never A G’Time 2 Say G’bye” reiterates the notion that Hunt is a ballad writer of enormous emotional depth and “Ur A Monster” is a two-part journey into the dark heart of a distinctly unhealthy relationship that begins with a contrite Hunt seeking reunion with a lover spurned, before it heads into a maelstrom of murderous intent: “I’ll hunt you down like an animal / hang your head like art on the wall.”
The standout song, however, is a rampant, raging beast of carnality in the form of “The Lowest 1 Of My Desires.” Relentlessly funky in the darkest possible way, the drums throb, the guitar line scratches spikily, and the piano tantalizes. These musical shades could only be served by lyrics of the most elemental kind and he doesn’t disappoint: “The last gasp of greatness / Came when I knew I’d trade everything for this / Throw diamonds at your feet / Crawl on my hands and knees / I wanna fuck you baby / I wanna climb inside and breathe with you baby.” It is a primal scream of lust that reaches extra levels of frenzy thanks to a fuzzed-up guitar solo that reaches a crescendo of orgasmic proportions.
That this album still sounds so fresh and relevant today as it did nearly a decade ago is testament to Van Hunt’s artistry and winning mix of stellar musical chops and unbridled honesty. Whether it’s the softly spoken balladeer or the ribald loverman, Hunt never flinches from the darkest corners of the human condition, leaving no one who hears him in any doubt as to his power as a singer-songwriter.
If you don’t know Van Hunt, Popular is a great place to get acquainted with his unique style. And if you already know him, then this is a delightful surprise that will only reaffirm your love for his sadly underappreciated talents.
Notable Tracks: “The Lowest 1 Of My Desires” | “Turn My TV On” | “Ur A Monster” | “Ur Personal Army”