This year, Eric Benét is celebrating two very big milestones in his life. Not only is the singer/songwriter celebrating his 50th birthday, but he’s also celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut solo album, True To Myself. However, while it’s Mr. Benét’s big year, we’re the ones getting the gifts. Like most people of a certain age, the celebration is less about him and more about the people who make life worth living. And he’s definitely given us something to celebrate: finely crafted, smooth R&B and soul music. While we’ve enjoyed a number of teasers and sneak peeks in anticipation of his self-titled eighth studio album, they don’t spoil the rest of the collection. The party is only beginning.
Eric kicks off the festivities with the lively “Can’t Tell U Enough.” Honestly, we simply cannot get enough of this track. Through a multitude of chord changes, Eric gives us his all to let the lady in his life know that she’s his everything. In addition to utilizing every facet of his tenor-to-falsetto range, the song also incorporates a cacophony of live instrumentation, building into a huge ensemble piece. It’s only the first track and he's already showing out. But can he keep the party going?
In a word, yes. The set's first single, "Sunshine," is next and definitely keeps up the momentum. On the track, Eric and his lover have slipped into a standard, mundane part of their relationship, where things are dull and dreary. However, Eric isn't content with the status quo and fights to bring the light back into their relationship against a backdrop of blaring horns, organ, drums and bass guitar. While the first two tracks on the album are light and airy, the clean-cut soul man isn’t afraid to get dirty, and he gets downright filthy on the soul funk ballad “Insane.” Over a beat that sounds like something Prince and Sir Elton John might cook up if they ever collaborated, Mr. Benét tries to push his lover to her raunchy limits, singing, “There’s a girl locked up deep inside you / And that’s who I want to meet tonight.” Keeping it just as funky, but a little more PG, he takes a dip into the sound pool of Rick James and Cameo for “Cold Trigger,” an ode to a woman whose mack game is A-one. If “Can’t Tell U Enough” is the song you play at your wedding, “Cold Trigger" is the song you play at the reception to get everyone and their mother-in-law on their feet and doing the latest line dance.
Of course, when it comes to a good ballad, there’s no questioning Benét’s ability to deliver. "Broke Beat & Busted" finds Eric warning his lover never to leave him, else his life would take a drastic 180 degree turn. "Home" is a piano-led pop ballad that finds the world-weary star longing to return "to the only place I know I'm free." "Fun & Games" discusses the unpleasant ending to a homie/lover/friend relationship, lamenting the situationship over subtle strings and guitar licks that make breaking up sound a little too good. Then there's the super laid-back “Floating Thru Time,” which uses the sound of a warped record to create an intoxicating groove that feels like endless relaxation. “That Day,” another song perfect for saying “I Do,” is a playful yet serious power ballad about remaining ever faithful, through thick, thin, sickness and health, till… well, you get the point. Finally, there's "Never Be The Same (Luna's Lullaby)," dedicated to his youngest daughter, Amoura Luna. The touching ballad expresses how a man's world changes after having a child, seeing and experiencing life in new ways.
Eric also takes time to revisit some of the brightest moments of his career. “Holdin On,” the story of a one-night stand with a fan gone awry, utilizes the same Toto sample as his 1999 hit “Georgie Porgy” featuring Faith Evans. While Faith doesn’t make a reappearance on the track, MC Lyte, who also used the same sample for her 1991 smash “Poor Georgy,” more than makes up for it with her guest verse. We also get a surprise visit from Tamia, who collaborated with Eric on the modern wedding standard “Spend My Life With You,” on the remix to “Sunshine.” Flipping Mtume’s “You, Me & He,” the duet partners reminisce on their past romance, refusing to, “fall victim to life’s mundane.” The chemistry between the two still burns as bright as ever and makes you wonder why it took so long for them to return to the studio together.
From beginning to end, Eric Benét -- the man and the album -- delights, surprises and, most importantly, entertains. The album is well put together thematically and musically, as tracks flow together through verses and instrumentation. Though not every track will be someone’s favorite, it all comes together as a pretty tight, cohesive project that has way more highs than lows. And those highs are pretty high. You could say the same about the life and career of Eric Benét.