Tank - Stronger (2014)

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News that Tank’s sixth solo album went #1 on the Billboard R&B chart in its first week, his fourth #1 R&B album, is encouraging for those desiring more grown folks music, because it is unabashedly an urban adult contemporary album with a size 12 firmly planted in traditional R&B. With no attempts to appeal to the kid crowd, Tank delivers an album of light funk dance grooves and stripped down, soul pop ballads that rely heavily on melody and voice rather than gimmickry and profane lyricism. With a career going from strength to strength, following Tank’s recent hit supergroup project, Three Kings (with TGT), Stronger aptly describes an album that is easily one of his best in years.

News that Tank’s sixth solo album went #1 on the Billboard R&B chart in its first week, his fourth #1 R&B album, is encouraging for those desiring more grown folks music, because it is unabashedly an urban adult contemporary album with a size 12 firmly planted in traditional R&B. With no attempts to appeal to the kid crowd, Tank delivers an album of light funk dance grooves and stripped down, soul pop ballads that rely heavily on melody and voice rather than gimmickry and profane lyricism. With a career going from strength to strength, following Tank’s recent hit supergroup project, Three Kings (with TGT), Stronger aptly describes an album that is easily one of his best in years. In a career that has seen few lulls since the gold-selling Force of a Man hit the scene 13 years ago with the hits “Slowly” and “Maybe I Deserve,” Stronger represents both a commercial and artistic career high for a mid-career artist with still plenty of kick in him. 

Opening with a smash that should be a signature song for Durrell Babbs aka Tank (with Earth Wind and Fire horns and a ever present “This Place Hotel” a la The Jacksons interpolation), “You’re My Star” features a pitch perfect Kelly Rowland on hooks and backgrounds, and is an instant party for the soul. The radio jam also boasts a breakdown bridge that owes as much to contemporary gospel as it does to traditional R&B. It’s quite simply one of Babbs and Lonny Bereal’s best songwriting collaborations since their #1 radio powerhouse “Please Don’t Go” in 2007. Weaker, but still infectious, “Nobody Better” follows it up with a techno funk that owes more than a little bit to the Minneapolis soul sound made famous by such acts as Morris Day and The Time.

A directive electric slide joint, “Dance With Me” picks back up the pace on a disco ditty with Chic-inspired guitar licks and a bassline that is all about getting more mature feet on the dancefloor to get their old school groove thang on. “Dance With Me” too ups the ante with a wah wah guitar bridge that would have been right at home with Norman Whitfield era Temptations as Tank does his best James Brown impression. Producer Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis returns Tank to the MJ references with an opening bassline reminiscent of “Working Day and Night” from Off The Wall, but doesn’t keep it there, opening up the song with hand percussions, hooky backgrounds, and more Nile Rodgers tinged groovelines.

While most of these strolls down the annals of ‘70s and ‘80s soul include a familiar sound, once they’ve hooked you on the known, they also strongly depart from it in a way that places Tank’s unique stamp on them, especially on the bridges, which usually signals a complete movement change in the song that both surprises and is welcome. The notable exception is “Missing You,” which is a straight rip of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On phase in almost every way. You’d be forgiven for believing it a very well done cover from that project, but it is in fact an original co-written by Arden Altino, Jerry Wonda, and Scott “Kasper” Gaddy. Similarly, the aerial falsetto ballad, “Hope This Makes You Love Me,” has a hint of Prince in its production approach, but is too soul pop for a straight-ahead comparison. The über-modern Babs and Bereal collabo sounds more like something we should expect Marsha Ambrosius to try her hand at covering.

Luckily, to prevent charges of copying Robin Thicke and R. Kelly’s recent album length mining of old school soul, the latter half of Tank’s album is all his and his collaborator’s own. From the contemporary radio of “Same Way” to the astral soul atmospherics of “If That’s What It Takes,” Tank proves he’s his own man as both a singer and songwriter. Both “If That’s What It Takes” and the current hit single, “Stronger,” battle for prominence as some of the best, most laid back compositions in Tank’s career, each with simple yet powerful leads that showcase all of the singer’s ample vocal gifts. In an album whose sentimental lover man lyricism can sometimes inspire side-eyes, both “Stronger” and “If That’s What It Takes” are more direct, honest, and uncomplicated in their messaging. All things considered, “Stronger” is likely a neo-classic on an album that already has one in “You’re A Star.”

The modern meets traditional productions by Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis, Eric “Bluetooth” Griggs, Shama “Sak Pase” Joseph, Young Frye, and James “J-Doe” Smith are all slickly polished with a sometimes heavy hand on the EQing of Tank’s gospel drenched tenor - unnecessarily so at times, given the singer’s indisputable talent. For his part, Tank co-wrote and co-produced throughout, ensuring his imprint is still felt on this grown man’s anthem album of goodies that firmly illustrate why it’s Tank who’s the real star. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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