Eric Benet - From E to U, Vol. 1 (2014)

Eric Benet
EricBenetfromE.png

“Sounds like Karaoke.” That was the three word description I received last month from a music industry friend who heard an advance copy of Eric Benet’s new Japan-only release, From E to U, Vol. 1. I can’t get away with a review that short, but I don’t think anything I say will be more illuminating. 

There is a common belief among music executives that Asian audiences will, sight unseen, buy “covers” albums of familiar songs performed by familiar American artists.  And it isn’t unusual for past-their-prime artists to quickly put together albums of remakes for the Asian market, even if they are of questionable artistic merit. Well, rarely is the merit of one of these projects more questionable than From E to U, Vol. 1.

“Sounds like Karaoke.” That was the three word description I received last month from a music industry friend who heard an advance copy of Eric Benet’s new Japan-only release, From E to U, Vol. 1. I can’t get away with a review that short, but I don’t think anything I say will be more illuminating. 

There is a common belief among music executives that Asian audiences will, sight unseen, buy “covers” albums of familiar songs performed by familiar American artists.  And it isn’t unusual for past-their-prime artists to quickly put together albums of remakes for the Asian market, even if they are of questionable artistic merit. Well, rarely is the merit of one of these projects more questionable than From E to U, Vol. 1.

This wasn’t supposed to be the Eric Benet disc we’d hear in 2014. He was riding high from his last release, The One, a brilliant comeback album that showed him at his artistic peak as an adult soul singer. The One was so strong, it earned for him the 2012 SoulTracks Male Vocalist of the Year, and had us salivating for his much discussed upcoming studio album on the new Primary Wave label.  Well, that album is still in the distance, and instead what we have in front of us now is a hot mess.

From E to U is fashioned as an album that celebrates some great hits of the 80s. But unlike the more enjoyable covers albums of the past decade, it eschews adding new twists to familiar songs, instead treating faithfulness to the original versions of the songs as its goal.  The lack of creativity begins with the song selection:  “Africa,” “Ride Like The Wind,” “After The Love Has Gone” and “Open Arms” lead a list of tired soft rock favorites, performed here with arrangements that synthetically mimic the originals, but somehow manage to be even softer. If This is Spinal Tap bragged about dialing it up to eleven, From E to U appears intent to dial it down to two. 

Of course, the one good thing about covers albums – even bad ones – is that the songs chosen are being covered for a reason: They were great hits. So the selections on From E to U are all familiar, solid compositions that are inherently listenable, even if placed here in a Holiday Inn lounge sort of setting. But the affair is all so tired, even a usually fabulous singer like Benet just can’t seem to muster the energy to prop them up. He fronts the banal arrangements with "phoned in" vocals.  That legendary first tenor is left to simply play the wedding singer here, a performance that is as understated and generic as the rest of the project.

Fans understand that music is not only art, it is commerce. But From E to U, Vol. 1 doubles down on the commerce and saves the art for another day, making it disappointing even by the lower standard of covers albums. It is a cynical snoozer of a project that appears designed only for a quick buck in a land far to the East of us.  But we – and especially Eric Benet – are all the lesser for it. Benet has a discography that has at times achieved greatness and at times been merely interesting, but never, ever “sounded like Karaoke.” Well, unfortunately that’s the best description of From E to U, Vol. 1. Worst of all, it is labeled as “Vol. 1,” which means we can expect a “Vol. 2.” God help us.  Not Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

 

Leave a comment!