Van Hunt - What Were You Hoping For? (Advance Review)

Van Hunt

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Van Hunt’s career is the middle finger to all of the critics who say that the lyric in R&B comes in a distant second to the music. Hunt released two albums prior to his latest, What Were You Hoping For? Both of those records – 2004’s self-titled debut and 2006’s On The Jungle Floor -- became platforms for one of the smartest lyricists in all of music. A third record, Popular, got mothballed. However, that didn’t stop hard core Van Hunt fans (and there are quite a few of them) from hearing at least few tracks. Van Hunt and On The Jungle Floor became megaphones for one of the funkiest artists in the game. A listener could put on a blindfold, point to a tune on either of those records and be assured of hearing melodies that got heads nodding and lyrics that put fresh pavement on that well-traveled road of relationships.

Van Hunt’s career is the middle finger to all of the critics who say that the lyric in R&B comes in a distant second to the music. Hunt released two albums prior to his latest, What Were You Hoping For? Both of those records – 2004’s self-titled debut and 2006’s On The Jungle Floor -- became platforms for one of the smartest lyricists in all of music. A third record, Popular, got mothballed. However, that didn’t stop hard core Van Hunt fans (and there are quite a few of them) from hearing at least few tracks. Van Hunt and On The Jungle Floor became megaphones for one of the funkiest artists in the game. A listener could put on a blindfold, point to a tune on either of those records and be assured of hearing melodies that got heads nodding and lyrics that put fresh pavement on that well-traveled road of relationships. A true artist, Hunt always seemed willing to push creative boundaries. He could have easily stayed in the 1970s soul/funk vein that he mined for critical success on his debut. Yet, he expanded on that with On The Jungle Floor by adding rock and even a touch of folk.

Hunt demands more of himself, as well as his listeners, on What Were You Hoping For? The CD sports rock/funk cuts such as “North Hollywood” and straight up rockers like “Watching You Go Crazy is Driving Me Insane.” The funky “Plum” – a tribute to the female behind - could have fit in nicely on Van Hunt. The love anthem “Eyes Like Pearl” finds Hunt dabbling in emo, while “Cross Dresser” is the kind of new wave jam that might remind some of Prince circa 1981. Tunes such as “Cross Dresser” and the title track show that Hunt is a top-flight wordsmith. On “Cross Dresser,” Hunt sings about holding on to the memory of his lost love by wearing some of her clothes. “People aren’t as cool as the things they leave behind/I’m not broken hearted/Sometimes I wear her scarves on my head/Impressions improve with the passing of time/I don’t really miss her/Sometimes I wear her mink furs.”

“What Were You Hoping For” is a track that perfectly captures the tenor of our economically distressed time. This recession saw middle class people lose jobs and spend years looking for new employment. Those fortunate enough to land a new gig often saw their salaries plunge. Many had to downsize and were forced to acquaint themselves with a new normal. Hunt aims this track at the strivers who can no longer separate themselves from those less fortunate. The sparse arrangement brings more urgency to Hunt’s insightful lyrics: “It’s the end of white flight/can’t afford to keep moving on/money tight/you’re begging door to door.” "Designer Jeans" is Hunt’s critique of identity politics where ideology, religion, ethnicity and sexual identity have become the new brands.

Long time Van Hunt fans know this is one artist who will not dumb it down. A Van Hunt fan can’t be a passive listener because an album like What Were You Hoping For? can be an interactive experience, and those willing to step out of their comfort zones will be richly rewarded. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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