Eric Benet could go on to win 10 Grammys, save a boatload of drowning children and win the Nobel Peace Prize, but to most people, he will forever live in infamy as the guy who cheated on Halle Berry during the period when the actress was at her Oscar-winning peak. Because of this fact, some people may never give Benetâ€™s music a chance, even though he certainly isnâ€™t the first and wonâ€™t be the last philandering musician.
Of course, thereâ€™s a sizable chunk of people who have no idea who Benet is besides Halleâ€™s ex-husband. After all, the guyâ€™s never had a major crossover pop hit. In mainstream circles, heâ€™s always been below the radar. That doesnâ€™t mean he hasnâ€™t been successful or made music that wasnâ€™t worth checking out, though. Over the course of five albums in 15 years (yes, he was making albums prior to meeting Halle) heâ€™s drifted into neo-soul territory (with 1997â€™s platinum-selling A Day in the Life), wandered into adult contemporary pop (the David Foster-helmed Hurricane-essentially an hour-long apology to Halle), and his latest album, Lost in Time, is a tribute to soul music of the past-specifically the Seventies, the time period when the 44-year old singer first got bitten by the singing bug.
Eric is certainly a capable songwriter and vocalist, but I canâ€™t help but feel a bit of a disconnect when I listen to Lost in Time. The problem with tribute albums (or covers albums) is that the artist too often finds themselves shoehorned into a style (or a song) so closely identified with a particular artist or era that they wind up losing their own originality in the process. Thereâ€™s a little disco boogie here, a little sweet Philly soul there-but thereâ€™s barely a touch of individuality to be found on most of these songs.
Benetâ€™s major go-to period of inspiration for this album appears to be the early-Seventies sound defined by producer Thom Bell and groups like The Delfonics and The Stylistics. Songs like â€œNever Want to Live Without Youâ€ and â€œAlways a Reasonâ€ highlight Benetâ€™s creamy tenor and also find him reaching for his rarely-used falsetto. Although heâ€™s no Russell Thompkins Jr., Eric more than holds his own on these songs. His other default appears to be upbeat disco, as evidenced by songs like â€œFeel Goodâ€ and â€œGood Life.â€
Lost in Time has more than itâ€™s share of guest artists. Modern R&B divas Ledisi, Faith Evans and Chrisette Michele offer a female foil for some of his more uptempo joints, and heâ€™s also joined by his teenage daughter India, who sings background vocals on the breezy, Stevie/Isleys hybrid â€œSummer Love.â€ Some of those collaborations work, some donâ€™t — Michele spends way too much time preening on â€œTake It,â€ while the Evans collaborationÂ â€œFeels Goodâ€ sounds like a K-Mart version of The Emotionsâ€™ â€œBest of My Love.â€ The most interesting team-up, however, isÂ his attempt at creating a â€œBack Stabbersâ€-styled social commentary track with â€œPaid.â€ It doesnâ€™t totally work right, even with Â Oâ€™Jay Eddie LeVert doing most of the vocal heavy lifting. The lyrics are certainly timely (amazing how little things have changed in 40 years), but Ericâ€™s vocals (even in a support role) arenâ€™t tough enough to carry a song like this, and an even bigger problem than that is the song-which sounds totally recycled. Eric fares much better on songs like the album closer, â€œSomethingâ€™s Wrong,â€ which sounds like-well, Iâ€™ll be damned — an Eric Benet song!
Reaching back to the past is certainly not a novel concept. However, itâ€™s also not a concept that gets executed well in most cases. On Lost in Time, Benet does a decent if not spectacular job recreating sounds from soulâ€™s glory years. While the albumâ€™s not entirely a success, I at least have to give the man props for making a throwback-type album that sounds like it was created simply for the enjoyment of the music rather than as a crass stab at continued commercial relevance a la Rod Stewart.
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