Apologies to all those google-ising Exchange And Mart readers arriving here by mistake. We’re sorry to announce that the search for that crucial second-hand transit to kick off the painting & decorating round will have to wait just that little while longer.
But seeing as you’re here, you might want to check on the latest model from Ohio’s neo-soul bright young thing Van Hunt. Its out On The Jungle Floor right now…but, yes, you’re absolutely right. Some of the uphostelry does look a bit worn…and yes it does look like a bit tarted up…and yes, a lot of the ideas do have a few miles on the clock…
Harsh? Maybe, but Van Hunt’s second album arrives with a certain amount of big-budget hyperbole. Tuesday Night Music Club supremo Bill Bottrell has been drafted in with a mix that is stitched and tailored to slip seamlessly onto MTV, while Hunt himself looks crossover ready to be exiled on mainstream.
Or at least he would be if this were 1990. Van Hunt is a likeable sort, but appears a young man weighed down by the sum of his influences. Throughout On The Jungle Floor, Van Hunt strolls, glides, growls, coos, and, at worst, he rocks. Mostly, he Prince-s, he Kravitz-es, he Mayfield’s. And occasionally he attempts to Isley and to Sly.
Managed by US Idol judge Randy Jackson, Van Hunt is a multi-instrumentalist and plays many of the parts here himself – a breadth of ability the likes of which Jackson must now be mightily unfamiliar with after sharing gavels with Simon Cowell.
On this evidence, Van Hunt can easily contort himself into a shadowplay of his idols, but lacks the peculiarities and obsessions that mark out the artist from the artisan. Daredevil, Baby longs for the zippo’s-aloft communion of Purple Rain, and there is a particularly lifeless attempt at a Graffiti Bridge-style age-of-aquarius anthem with The Night Is Young.
There is worse. At The End Of A Slow Dance, the album’s true honest-to-Phil-Collins clinker could easily have been ripped and burnt from a Brat Pack-era soundtrack. Kravitz take-offs are one thing, but John Parr???
Conversely, Van Hunt finds something of an original voice when staying within the disciplinarian autocracies of the leanest funk and the most opulent soul.Suspicion (She Knows Me Too Well) sustains the atmosphere of claustrophobic compression on-the verge-of-instant-release that has long been Funk’s singular trait. On the side of that opulence, the fine boudoir-bound centrepieces Priest Or Police and Character stay the happier side of imitation that remains emulation.
There is more than enough latitude in modern pop for black and white acts to swap styles, poses, and riffs. So much so that Van Hunt’s Kravitz-style take on the Iggy Pop / James Williamson No Sense Of Crime has something of the dilettante about it, rather than a symbolic statement of common ground.
But even on the record’s better tracks, the look-back mentality hampers the move from satisfactory to the sublime. Perhaps the choice of Bottrell is a bad one. The centre-ground of pop has long since been annexed by the hip-hop nation and its R & B conflation’s, and its tempting to think what someone like Raphael Saadiq might have done with the raw material of On The Jungle Floor.
Whatever, test drives of this motor will prove it to be more lemon than marque, more Edsel than Lincoln. The styling, naturally, is retro. As in passe.