Reed’s latest LP finds the soulful singer updating his sound
Eli Paperboy Reed • Nights Like This • Warner Bros • US Release Date: April 29, 2014
Retro-soul music isn’t exactly the most lucrative style of music in 2014 (neither is R&B for that matter, LOL). Sure, the preservation of soul is incredibly important, but it doesn’t sell many albums nor ignite the airwaves. There have been exceptions mind you as a couple of retro-inspired R&B singles have enjoyed radio success as of late – namely “Happy” (Pharrell Williams) and “The Man” (Aloe Blacc).
Otherwise, retro-/ and neo-soul styles aren’t the best means of financially setting up one’s career. That seems to be the thinking that Eli Paperboy Reed arrives at on 2014 LP, Nights Like This. Reed is still incredibly soulful throughout the course of the album, but the artist’s overall ‘classic’ sound has been updated to ‘fit the times’. It’s not completely supplanted, but there is a clear departure from 2010 LP Come and Get It!, which was drenched in retro stylings.
“Well Alright Now” is the first hint of a more contemporary soul approach. Even though it doesn’t sound completely ‘vintage’, there are enough production cues in place for the listener to pinpoint past influences. What is more noteworthy about the excellent opener is that Reed is still able to unleash his grit and vocal ferociousness. This was a characteristic of his previous work, so losing that might’ve truly compromised his musical persona. Luckily, that’s not an issue.
Reed does show some present-day swagger on “Grown Up” as he informs us that “sh*t is getting real now”, which seems somewhat antithetical to both the title and Reed’s own perceived clean-cut nature. “Grown Up”, like “Well Aright Now” possesses the influence of classic soul, but also conforms by all means to music a la 2014. “Grown Up” balances pop and R&B particularly well, reminiscing the material/sound of John Newman’s 2014 debut Tribute. Vocally, Reed remains in top-notch form.
If “WooHoo” takes anything from the classic R&B script, it is the feistiness. In fact, “WooHoo” epitomizes being tongue-in-cheek. The sounds of the past are incorporated as well, but there are also some fresh electronic sounds that keep the door to the future ajar.
Title track “Nights Like This” is definitely a feel-good track that manages to fill the obligatory driving-pop track requirement. “Nights like this / you better not miss / if you don’t show up / How we gonna blow up,” Reed sings enthusiastically on the chorus. Initially, it seems more old school given the prominence of the bass, the groove, and even Reed’s vocal approach, but eventually “Nights Like This” sounds as pop as anything else incorporating signature modern-pop cues.
On “Lonely World”, the delicious ostinato piano makes the joint comparable to the past when such was a commonplace musical feature. Vocally, Reed impresses by himself, but gets an excellent assist courtesy of superb vocal production that makes his instrument even more spectacular. The songwriting is memorable and the overall spirit is high, making “Lonely World” among the best.
“Shock to the System” keeps the energy lofty, with Reed’s impassioned howls, and highly energetic production. The drums pound hard on “Shock to the System”, truly conveying that “shock” of which the song reference. A hard beat continues to be a pro on follow-up “Not Even Once”, which adds an instrumental contrast with the use of acoustic guitar. The result is something of a folk-soul and pop combo. It’s not quite as effective as either “Lonely World” or “Shock to the System”, but still puts Reed in a great light. Hey, if nothing else, the repeated “ohs” are infectious.
“Shoes” lays well, though doesn’t particularly distinguish itself from the top echelon numbers. “Ain’t Worth It (Goodbye)” is a bit more of an attention-grabber, if for no other reason than its repetitive whistling. Rather than being ‘desperate’, Reed suggests (alludes) to something more folks ought to do – just say screw it because “it ain’t worth it.” That said, can’t say I’m not guilty.
On penultimate number “Pistol Shot”, Reed continues to flex his pipes. “Pistol Shot” doesn’t quite pay the same respects to Reed’s retro-soul past like some of Nights Like This’ cuts do – this is more pop bay bee (*shouts in a Dick Vitale voice). The tenderness that initiates closer “Two Broken Hearts” is a nice change of pace from “Pistol Shot”. As the cut progresses, the production feels out and Reed’s cutting vocals do what they do – cut and deliver a nuanced, standout performance.
Overall, Nights Like This is the right move for Eli Paperboy Reed’s lucrativeness as a musical artist. That said it is hard to say that there isn’t a smidgen of Reed’s persona that is missing/effected by this musical makeover. Yeah, it goes with the territory, particularly given R&B’s continual tweaks to reestablish the genre’s marketability in the industry, but hardcore fans will miss some of the stricter classicism.
Favorites: “Well, Alright Then”; “Grown Up”; “WooHoo”; “Lonely World”; “Shock To The System”
Photo Credits: © Warner Bros, © EMI Music North America