The bulk of Popular finds Van Hunt exploring the joys and frustrations of carnal desire and romantic love. He sings about situations and feelings that his listeners might have experienced or fantasized about but consciously suppress in polite company. Van Hunt wastes no time in euphemisms so a listener must leave their inhibitions at the door. He dives right into the boudoir on "SNM" and "Prelude (The Dimples on Ur Bottom)" while furnishing a steady supply of hooks, polyrhythms and counter-melodies. "Jump on the ground and wrestle with my shame/because I don't want to hide behind anything," he sings on "The Lowest 1 of My Desires" backed by a rousing guitar riff. His lyrics are honest, not gratuitous, and that's what distinguishes him from artists who toss in four letter words for simple shock effect. He's simply conveying the essence of what sexual feelings are.
Popular is triumphant because it fully manifests Van Hunt's singular style. The elements of soul, rock, and funk that made Van Hunt (2002) and On the Jungle Floor (2006) stand apart among Van Hunt's peers in contemporary R&B have now coalesced into something beyond categorization. It's his first effort completely self-produced so there's no outside censor infiltrating his creative process. As such, the intersection of different sounds that he's created cannot possibly be absorbed the first time through. Its brilliance seeps out surreptitiously and over repeat listens, whether the jagged rhythms of "Ur Personal Army" or the melancholic melody of "Ur a Monster."
Popular will undoubtedly split opinion upon its release. In an era of pre-packaged stars, ready-made radio hits, and played-out artist collaborations, Van Hunt's third album is an unconventional creature. To these ears, Popular is the mark of an artist who continues to grow with each album and has delivered his most personal, unfiltered artistic statement yet. It is a contemporary album that will outlive most of its brethren in 2008. It will captivate some listeners and may very well repel others but I think this is partly the point. That is what music as an art form does. Art catalyzes debate. It reflects the zeitgeist without pandering to it. It neither imitates nor leaves room to be imitated. In that regard Popular may not become the most popular album of 2008 but, to paraphrase a line on the title cut, it will certainly stand out among the million faces in the crowd.
By Christian John Wikane