CD Review of The Point of It All by Anthony Hamilton
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Label
Zomba/So So Def
Anthony Hamilton:
The Point of It All

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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O
ver the course of his short career, Anthony Hamilton has been compared to Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Bill Withers – all of which are frankly ridiculous, but nonetheless illustrative of the dire state of modern R&B: In a sea of mechanized beats and relentlessly lifeless production, all it takes to provoke outlandish critical name-checking is a great voice and songs that aren’t shitty.

Hamilton’s fifth album, The Point of It All, contains generous helpings of both ingredients, which is a perhaps overly flippant way of saying that even though it doesn’t really do much to advance his cause as an artist, it’s far from an unpleasant listen. His voice is as warm and supple as ever, and these 14 tracks give him room to stretch it to impressive lengths, from feathery falsetto to guttural growl; he even manages to work a spoken-word interlude into "I Did It for Sho." And the songs? Well, they aren’t shitty – but on the other hand, they aren’t terrific.

The most frustrating thing about The Point of It All is the way Hamilton consistently threatens to fire on all cylinders, but never does: He’s either delivering a terrific vocal on top of a pedestrian song ("Fallin’ in Love"), drowning a potentially great song under bad production ("Please Stay"), or disrupting a solid groove with distractingly questionable artistic choices (like David Banner’s left-field cameo on the otherwise wonderful "Cool"). Pretty much every track has something going for it – and against it. As much as Hamilton might occasionally evoke the famous forebears he’s been compared to, he rarely steps out of their shadows – mostly because he can’t seem to help tripping over himself.

When he does put it all together, though, the results can approach transcendence – as with "Prayin’ for You/Superman," which moves seamlessly from a slide guitar-laced gospel stomp into a piano-led ballad, and boasts a typically soulful vocal from Hamilton. It’s the best thing on the album; unfortunately, it doesn’t arrive until 11 tracks in, and isn’t enough to outweigh the many slight misfires that precede it. (Tellingly, it’s followed by "Her Heart," which is as pleasantly retro as it is thin; it sounds like something R. Kelly might record in an afternoon for the soundtrack of Jennifer Lopez’s next romantic comedy.)

The Point of It All isn’t a bad album – not by any stretch. But young talents with this much promise don’t come along very often, particularly in the beats ‘n’ bling-obsessed wasteland of modern R&B, so it’s impossible not to hold Hamilton to a higher standard. For now, it’s enough (if only just barely) that he’s put together another enjoyable record, but most of these songs are missing real depth – something we can feel, to cop an old phrase from the genre – and that’s what Hamilton needs to add to future albums if he wants to earn that lavish praise he’s been given.

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