Columbia Records · May 4, 2018
Leon Bridges’ new release shines in its nostalgia and funk in some parts, but manages to fall flat and sound more like a knock-off John Mayer in others.
Bridges is a soul singer-songwriter who gained fame after his 2015 project Coming Home. The record was praised for its 50’s and 60’s soul music inspiration, with Pitchfork calling him “comfortably living in the past.” Within the past year, his fame has exploded into touring with ex-boy-band-superstar Harry Styles.
His new project Good Thing isn’t as straightforwardly from the past, but that’s not a bad thing. The influences are very present, but they aren’t the forefront of the music. It’s less of a period piece and more of a vaguely nostalgic one that manages to blend modern and old versions of similar genres to create a unique mix.
Opening track ‘Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand’ embodies this mix quite well, setting listeners up for the album they’re about to experience. Within less than a minute, it’s obvious how great Bridges’ control over his voice is. His riffing and belting is hard to ignore — the vocals steal the show. His nostalgic style is evident in the mix of ‘Bad Bad News,’ a chronicle of him pushing past being told he wouldn’t amount to anything.
The funky taste that ‘Bad Bad News’ gives listeners a taste of manifests itself in a few more fun tracks like ‘If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)’ and 80’s influenced ‘You Don’t Know.’ These two tracks seem to come just in time for warmer weather and feel like a warm ray of sunlight, for lack of a less cliche analogy.
‘Beyond,’ incidentally his most popular song on Spotify as of the album’s release, is the weakest. While his voice shines as usual, that’s the only high point. It’s boring and sounds like every singer-songwriter track that’s already been played on every easy listening radio station. That’s not to say it’s a bad song; it just lacks originality and re-listening value. The song’s existence shows that his nostalgia factor isn’t the main influence driving his sound. Being modern is great, but creating boring modern music instead of something interesting and genre-blending like some of his other tracks doesn’t satisfy that successfully.
The second half of the album is more interesting than the first. The poppier tracks aren’t so nostalgia-fueled, but just enough to feel different. It’s here that Bridges proves he’s not a static artist. He can play around with influences and genres without straying too far from the track he initially set out on. Variation gives it a lot of re-listen value. The more single-ready tracks break up the monotony of the slower songs and show his ability to experiment and create something more. They feel like they’re almost reaching something really great, but just missing the point of greatness though.
Leon Bridges is a talented artist. His voice is incredible and he’s got a clear grasp of what he’s doing. That being said, his new album is not groundbreaking. It’s a pleasant listen with some standout tracks, but as a cohesive piece, it falls into that category of pleasant background music at Starbucks. There’s nothing wrong with a good album that isn’t pushing boundaries; sometimes, in fact, it’s just what you need to listen to.
Good Thing is just that — it’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing, not a great thing, but a good thing.