I was a twenty-year-old college sophomore attending Troy State University in Troy, Alabama when R&B singer Joe released his fourth album Better Days, in the winter of 2001. My initial thoughts on the album were that it was a rush effort to serve as stocking stuffers for the holiday season. Now at age 40 and as a husband and father, how do I feel about the album? Read on and find out.
Joe was still basking in the success of his three million-selling third album My Name Is Joe, when he returned to the studio to begin work on his fourth project. Joe opens his latest project with the album’s lead single, “Let’s Stay Home Tonight.” Johnta Austin, Joel Campbell, and Allen “Allstar” Gordon wrote the song. In contrast, Gordon and Campbell co-produced the song, which has a grown man groove. If memory serves correctly, Joe wanted a song that couples could groove to in the comfort of their own home, and the song was partially inspired by 9/11. I remember liking the single and loving the choreography of the B&W video.
Joe links up with his frequent collaborator Joshua P. Thompson for track number 2, which also bears the album’s title. The song finds Joe briefly using a sample of the Five Stairsteps “O-o-h Child,” which perfectly transitions into an inspirational anthem for single mothers. Joe’s voice comes off as smooth cognac. Joe and Thompson also collaborate on the song “Changed Man,” a standard baby take me back song that Joe’s vocals and Thompson’s production make it a winner.
Better Day’s second single was “What If a Woman” which is textbook Joe that finds him dropping knowledge to unappreciative men doing their ladies wrong. “What If a Woman” is one of the strongest songs on the album and one that I wish Joe would revisit more during his live shows.
The Neptunes were on fire at the time, so naturally, Joe linked up with the production duo for a track. Pharrell and Chad laced Joe with the album’s third single, “Isn’t This the World.” Joe sings the song just fine, but given the production The Neptunes were doing at the time, the sound did not grab me. Perhaps the song would have come across better as an acoustic track, where Joe could have shown off his guitar skills. I would have released “Alone” as the third single as it could be a companion piece to “What If a Woman.”
Joe handled production solely on four of the album tracks. The Shaggy assisted “Ghetto Child,” which is an inspirational message song for the kids. “Lover’s Prayer” is a heartfelt ballad that hits a bit harder for me now as a married man now, that I think the song would have done well as a single. “I Understand” is another textbook Joe song, but the message of the track is timeless. The final song that Joe solely handles production on is “World of Girls.” Now I will admit that when the music first starts, I had a feeling I would not like it. However, it is another strong album track. So much so, if I was in A&R I would have pushed as a summertime single given the exotic production.
There are some filler songs on Better Days, in particular, “I Like Sexy Girls” and “Here She Comes,” which cater to a pop audience. While “She Used 2 Luv Me” does not offer anything new and Joe would have been better selling the song to another artist.
Better Days was Joe’s attempt to mature as an artist. The album has aged well. However, after two superior albums, Joe’s fourth album got lost in the shuffle as the R&B genre began to change. Nevertheless, Better Days is a decent entry to Joe’s catalog.
Initial Listen Grade: C
Relisten Grade: B-
Top Songs: “Let’s Stay Home Tonight,” “What If a Woman,” and “Alone.”
Better Days is available on all streaming platforms.