There are times when style-over-substance works, and there are times when it doesn’t. With Embrya, Maxwell’s second full-length album, the singer confirms that he has mastered all the stylistic nuances of classic (read: ’70s) soul without having absorbed any of its essence. While he attended all the right schools and carries all the right credentials (a graduate of the Marvin Gaye Academy of Music with a minor in Curtis Mayfield, he went on to receive a graduate degree from the Al Green School of Silky Smooth Vocal Delivery), somehow Maxwell managed to avoid taking any songwriting classes.
So even with all the classic soul references woven into this trying-too-hard-to-be-sexy album, the music comes off as extremely, well, studied. There’s also a cloying Casanova brand of sexuality in evidence that’s not even as interesting as that uninteresting description implies. In fact, none of the songs, not “Everwanting: To Want You To Want” or “Know These Things: Shouldn’t You,” ever quite rise to the occasion (and, unfortunately, all the songs have similarly impotent and just-plain-annoying titles). Still, like Casanova, Maxwell soon gets the results he desires, and when he does, it’s really not much of a surprise. Take these, uh, perspiring lyrics from “Eachhoureachsecondeachminuteeachday: Of My Life”: “Baby girl come on come on come on/ keep it there till dawn baby/till comes the coming second coming all over me ooooh ooooh.” Yikes.