by j. brotherlove
On The Jungle Floor
In 1989, when Lenny Kravitz dropped Let Love Rule, his debut was met with equal critical acclaim and criticism. First listen proved Kravitz’s musical prowess was undeniable. However, many found it difficult to differentiate Kravitz from his influences (heavy doses of Prince, Sly Stone and The Beatles). It wasn’t until Lenny released Are You Gonna Go My Way (his third), that he successfully began internalizing his musical heroes and expressing himself from a distinctive point of view.
Van Hunt would do well to take note of Kravitz’s legacy; expressly because his influences are nearly identical (while encompassing Kravitz) and are reproduced just as nakedly on On The Jungle Floor, the follow-up his Grammy-nominated, self-titled 2004 debut.
Throughout On The Jungle Floor, Van Hunt showcases a boatload of additional style compared to his debut. But whose style is it? To date, you will not find a review of Van Hunt that doesn’t immediately mention Prince, Rick James, Sly Stone or Curtis Mayfield. The truth is, Jungle finds Van Hunt still clinging to his influences.
This is not inherently a bad thing especially, when Van Hunt executes so well. In my review of his debut (read at Vibe.com or mediumrare), I criticized Van Hunt for being "very much in control - at times, perhaps too controlled… not letting loose often enough". Jungle thankfully offers more energy in its genre-hopping fourteen tracks. Although vocals are Van Hunt’s least distinctive quality, he occasionally lets loose, such as on the fun and retro "The Thrill Of This Love".
The diversity of his sophomore release includes a cover of "No Sense Of Crime," originally recorded by Iggy Pop’s band, The Stooges. The results are surprisingly seductive, adding to Van Hunt’s depth. Unfortunately, he is less successful with his remake of Cree Summer’s "Mean Sleep". Despite his allegiance to Lenny Kravitz’s sensibilities (who co-wrote and sang on the Cree’s original), Van Hunt’s version, featuring Nikka Costa, doesn’t share the same intimacy.
Lyrically, Van Hunt addresses women, love and his newly-found fame ("If I Take You Home", "Hot Stage Lights") with producer Bill Bottrell (Michael Jackson, Madonna, Shelby Lynne) admirably providing classic authenticity to Van Hunt’s penchant for nostalgia. While he maintains a foothold in (arguable defunct) nu soul expression, Van Hunt polishes his material with a shine that eludes peers Raphael Saadiq, Rahsaan Patterson, Dionne Farris and Joi (whose delayed Tennessee Slim Is The Bomb was recently released, independently).
Yet, it’s difficult to identify any charting singles on Jungle. "Character" is the one track that most closely resembles the material from his debut. "If I Take You Home (Upon…)" and "Being A Girl" recalls the funky fun of Rick James and Prince. "At The End Of A Slow Dance" is new wave brilliance while R&B programmers would do listeners justice by including "Priest Or Police" in their rotation.
Despite these A&R challenges, longevity from Van Hunt appears evident and growth on future releases in inevitable. In the end, it’s difficult to criticize On The Jungle Floor when the current musical landscape offers little variety. And let’s face it; it sounds damn good.
just as the previous one, this will have to grow on me. I’m glad you wrote this, because as the bf and I were listening to it, we couldn’t help but note “who he’s giving” on each track. I hate doing that to artists, but he made it so damn easy.
His talent is still undeniable.
VH puts it down again. Sure, the influences are right there for you to spot, but it’s a damn sight better than the shite being forced on us.
digging this one deeply.
This one is going to have to grow on me. I listed to the cd last night for the first time. It does’t quite have a hold on me, but it has grasped me.
I admit my current fav off the album “Being A Girl” immediately reminded me of early Prince so I agree with “who’s style is it?” but I also find it refreshing compared to what we normally hear from artists who for whatever reason play it safe. Personally I wish other current artists would remind me of Prince, Curtis, Sly…
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