Boundaries and bonds are put to the test in a gritty crime-thriller drama about family, morality, and Maxwell is currently headlining The Night Tour with fellow soul-crooners Anthony Hamilton and Joe. As fans anxiously await the singer’s sixth studio album, I wanted to look back at his sophomore album, 1998’s Embrya.
Maxwell quickly became a household name when his debut Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite hit record stores in the spring of 1996. Led by the quiet storm staple “…Til the Cops Come Knockin'” and the follow-up dancefloor-ready “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” and “Sumthin’ Sumthin,'” many saw the album as a critical factor in the shaping of the mid-nineties “neo-soul movement” for a commercial audience.
Embrya arrived in stores on June 30th, 1998, led by the single “Luxury: Cococure.” Maxwell kept the vibe of his debut album’s second and third single with “Luxury: Cococure. The groove was infectious, and Maxwell’s voice was in great form. The singer’s next single was the late seventies Marvin Gaye -esque “Matrimony: Maybe You,” which gave the singer a chance to show off his falsetto.
In the late nineties, singles were still a thing, so I initially only purchased the first two singles from Embrya. However, I received a Towe Records gift card for the Holiday Season in 1998 and decided to buy the album in full. At age 17, I couldn’t fully fathom where Maxwell was going musically with his album. I wanted something more commercial and not ideas that I felt went nowhere. However, my musical tastes have changed at age forty, so how do I feel about the album now?
Embrya opens with the pregap track “Gestation: Mythos” before moving into the somewhat jazz-flavored “Everwanting: To Want You to Want” and the mid-tempo “I’m You: You Are Me, and We Are You (Pt. Me & You)”. We finally get a slow cut in “Drowndeep: Hula,” where the singer creates an atmosphere of sensuality while avoiding vulgarity. The same vibe carries over to “Submerge: Til We Come The Sun.”
The rest of the album is somewhat of a mixed bag and essentially not straightforward R&B. On the one hand, Maxwell is still singing about love and sensuality. However, some song titles can even throw the most eclectic musical tastes. The songs aren’t rubbish or weird in the final product. “Arroz con pollo” is an interlude with a great grove leading to the lovely Know These Things: Shouldn’t You.
While “Gravity: Pushing to Pull” and “Eachhoureachsecondeachminuteeachday: Of My Life” are mid-tempo jazz grooves. I understand the sophistication angle Maxwell was aiming for; however, as a former DJ, I can only imagine the puzzled look I would give someone requesting these songs. Embrya isn’t as bad as some would have you believe. At age forty, I now understand it’s an album from an artist expressing love in his eccentric style.
Final Grade: B
Embrya is available on all streaming platforms
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