2008 was a memorable year if only because I finally got a mp3 player that could hold all of my digital music collection. One of the first things I loaded on to my new Zune 120 was Raheem DeVaughn’s Love Behind the Melody. The highly anticipated album got so much hype because DeVaughn’s debut The Love Experience was a R&B radio sleeper that slowly cultivated a larger following, thanks to people like Alicia Keys name dropping it.
Love Behind the Melody stood out in a crowded field of male soul/hip hop because it’s sophisticated grown up approach to its retro sound did not objectify women like much of the R&B on the radio. Like most R&B albums nowadays, a team of producers overseen by DeVaughn created a sound that DeVaughn himself labeled as ‘R&B Hippie Neo-Soul Rock’ based on his self-described title in the opening track intro “Hello Love”.
The album did embody trace elements of psychedelia and rock like Maxwell and Van Hunt had been doing, but approached with a polished swagger usually associated with Musiq (Soulchild). The album’s first single “Woman” was a big R&B hit before crossing over to the pop charts. That song’s theme of female empowerment and respect set the tone of the album and instantly put DeVaughn in the grown up connoisseur category reserved for people like John Legend or Raphael Saadiq.
The album’s many variations of retro-soul range from the Stevie Wonder like arrangements of “Love Drug” (another one of 4 singles). One of the albums more direct musical homages “Friday” appropriated the melody and chorus of the old Temptations classic “My Girl”. One of my favorite tracks “Marathon” has a kind of retro futurism that once again recalls Stevie Wonder arrangements with Marvin Gaye styled vocals. It starts out simple enough and evolves into a multi tracked treat with Floetry.
“Customer”, yet another of the album’s singles uses a clever metaphor of fast food service as a love song. It’s cute and has a ’80s glow to it. Love Behind the Melody is multi faceted and thoughtfully written with spoken word moments as well as abstract musical passages like “Desire”.
Easily one of the year’s best albums, Love Behind the Melody was really what it’s title suggested and set the stage for an even more ambitious follow-up and appropriately named The Love War Masterpiece of 2010.