CD Review of Bees+Things+Flowers by Incognito

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starno starno starno starno star Label: EMI
Released: 2006
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The whole “acid jazz” movement was cool there for a few moments back in the mid-‘90s. For those of ye who don’t know what the hell “acid jazz” is, it’s basically jazzified modern lounge music married to dance beats. Not fast dance beats, per se, but not the ol’ brushes-on-skins stuff your 100% pure jazz would feature. It was all intertwined with that ‘90s techno music explosion that saw a million subgenres split apart from other subgenres and basically it was just another title for something you could groove to if you were so inclined.

So here we have Incognito, a “group” fronted by Jean-Paul Maunick that has been bouncing around the acid jazz halls for a while. This time around, Maunick has decided to slow things down to a painfully kitschy R&B slow jam groove and rework some of Incognito’s previous stuff in this new stew, along with a couple new tracks and a few covers. Too bad that this stew is pretty stinky while it’s sitting there cooking. With a huge dash of main ingredient “overwrought,” Bees+Things+Flowers will split your friendly listeners right down the middle.

First off, the terrible album title comes from the opening track “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” which is about as minimal and aggravating as lyrics and singing can get. Hey man, snap your fingers for this crazy poetry that’s barely there while a token female singer wails the title in a sultry cadence that will make your gag reflex want to have a field day. You know how bad it is when Christina Aguilera decides she’s going to do her crazy vocal vamping all the way through a song? Yeah, that’s like this, only toned down a few notches. It’s still bad, though.

If you want to get to the nadir of the album quickly, go ahead and cue up the cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.” Remember how the original had this good, rockin’ vibe to it? Now it’s been slowed down, and been refitted as “soulful.” Lounge Soul at its worst with more of those godawful “feelin’ it real good” Carleen Anderson vocals to really drive the nails in the coffin. There could have been myriad of ways to cover this thing and get the right effect, but not here. Nope, Maunick had to take all the drama of the original and piss on its head until it sounded like something that could sell some threads at The Gap.

Some will also swear by the closing cover of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World.” While it’s definitely better than “Summer in the City,” this time the group has veered too much in the other direction and started aping EWF’s original sound. Hey, if you can’t get it right one way, might as well swing the other and hope you knock it out of the old ballpark. Yes, well, it’s still better to stick with the original once again. But it’s still nice of Incognito to show us that they could be a great live karaoke backing band.

And so it goes. If you like your music really laid back, then this album may just do the trick. But Incognito have done better themselves before, and reworking some of their own tracks (“Still a Friend of Mine”) in this new “all-acoustic” fashion hinder even those performances. It’s as if Maunick decided to make an album heavy on syrupy musical dross and worn out “singing” styles and fused them together to create something new that was old. He succeeded. Either stick with the group’s past efforts or just give this one a pass altogether. La de da.

~Jason Thompson