Leon Bridges, “Good Things” (Columbia)
It was hard to avoid the Sam Cooke comparisons with Bridges’ engaging debut, 2015’s “Coming Home.” Even the handsome young singer’s wardrobe was stylishly vintage. For this follow-up, however, the Texan has decided to go far less retro.
“Good Things” is state-of-the-art contemporary R&B, with a heavier reliance on synthesizers and programming. For the most part, Bridges manages to keep it from sounding antiseptic — he still has that sweet, Cooke-like croon, and this time also employs a falsetto. He also seems more intent on playing the sensitive love man, and numbers such as “Shy” and “Mrs.” have an erotic charge that was missing from the debut.
Not that it all works. “Lions,” for one, falls flat with a halting rhythm and a half-baked metaphor, and the love ballads veer too close to the generic.
“Good Things” does contain welcome echoes of the more organic musical approach of “Coming Home.” They include “Beyond” and the set-closing “Georgia to Texas,” a spare but evocative coming-of-age ballad. And there’s also the swinging, horn-accented “Bad Bad News,” on which Bridges seems to be delivering a message to those who might not like the turn he’s taking, and also telegraphing his ambition: “Why you trynna hold me back / I’m just trynna move up front / Lil more of this, lil less of that / I’m tired of being in the back.”
NICK CRISTIANO, Philadelphia Inquirer
James Bay, “Electric Light” (Republic)
Bay looks like a new man. The long hair and the trademark black fedora are gone, as is the straightforward rock of “Let It Go.”
For his sophomore album, Bay has combined bits of rock, R&B and EDM to create something new and compelling, as he writes about navigating relationships in the modern world.
His biggest risk may also be his most successful, with the late-night, booty-call complaint “Fade Out.” Part Frank Ocean alt-soul, complete with effective falsetto, part ’80s synth pop, the song finds Bay worried about the state of his relationship. “You only want me when the lights are down,” he sings. It is one of the freshest pop songs of the year.
The single “Pink Lemonade,” which Bay debuted on “Saturday Night Live,” successfully combines early Strokes shimmer with Euro swagger. “Wild Love” combines “Higher Love”-era Steve Winwood with James Blake-ian synth squiggles and classic Roxy Music style. With different production choices, “Sugar Drunk High” could easily be a country hit tomorrow.
With “Electric Light,” Bay reintroduces himself as a forward-thinking artist with plenty to say. It’s a makeover that goes well beyond his shorter hair and flashier shirts.
GLENN gAMBOA, Newsday
• Snow Patrol, “Wildness”
• Jonathan Davis, “Black Labyrinth”
• Hoobastank, “Push Pull”
• Chvrches, “Love Is Dead”