Never in the history of soul music has someone promised so much yet delivered so little… that’s right, we are talking, of course, about the enigma that is Maxwell. The man with the sweetest of natural soul voices burst amongst us with the iconic ‘Urban Hang Suite’ – rightly lionised as one of THE great soul albums of all time. His subsequent recordings, however, floundered in the sea of self-indulgence to be ultimately written off on the rocks of aggressive criticism. No wonder then it’s taken the man some eight years to get back into the studio to work on brand new material – and, in case, you hadn’t noticed, he now sports a different, altogether preppy image. Well new image or not, I’m afraid to say that Mr. M still hasn’t returned to top form. To expect him to deliver another ‘Urban Hang Suite’ would be asking too much, of course, but I guess we were all hoping that after eight years he’d make it easier for us to really like his musical confections. He hasn’t. There are still too many moments of self indulgence. Case in point is the plucked Country and Western style banjo (or is it a ukulele?) on ‘Help Somebody’. It’s at odds with the tight beats and song’s mood; then there’s the looser – almost unstructured – rhythms on ‘Cold’ while perhaps the chief self-indulged item is the instrumental closer ‘Phoenixrise’. On a vocalist’s album with only 9 tracks, it easy to feel cheated when one cut is an instrumental. Maybe, Maxwell ran out of intriguing, enigmatic, superficially deep and meaningful lyrics… we’ll never know. That said there are thing to like here. The first single ‘Pretty Wings’ is a great builder of a song and it really takes off when the brass kicks in while ‘Playing Possum’ is as funerary in atmosphere as the title might imply. On the decent and the not so decent, the big saving grace is that voice – a falsetto to die for and it shows classic soul man potential on stuff like ‘Bad Habits’ when the swoon becomes tinged with anger. Equally, the whole album’s been put together with a huge care. It’s polished and glossy with a coherent soundscape and it’s never less than interesting and always intriguing – but there’s not that much here that makes instant emotional connection … and for me that’s what real soul music is is all about.