Retrospective: Ranking Maxwell's Albums

By @TrueGodImmortal 

Maxwell is one of the most prolific artists of our time within the soul and R&B genre. He hasn't over saturated himself and he's always taken breaks in between albums to return with a fresh perspective each time. He's never disappointed with each album, and today we decided to take a look at his discography, which is a bit short (much like our Sade piece), but at a total of 5 projects, we have enough to make a solid list. Has Maxwell been able to outdo his classic debut? What is his worst project? All these questions will be answered. Let's get into it.

5. MTV Unplugged EP (1997)

-Obviously, this would be ranked last. It is an Unplugged EP, but it is included in his catalog and it does feature Maxwell with some covers and is the debut of him singing "This Woman's Work". The EP is a fun listen as Maxwell carefully weaves through his debut album and provides us a live rendition of about 5 or 6 of the best songs from it. The only thing working against it is the obvious fact that it's an incomplete project. However, it is still enjoyable overall, much like every other Unplugged album that shows the artist in performance mode.

4. Now (2001)

-Majority of Maxwell fans might have expected to see Embrya in this spot, as the worst of his actual studio albums. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but this album is not better than Embrya. That's not to say this album is bad by any stretch because it is actually a damn good album. It just has a few moments that fall flat, such as "Temporary Nite" or the by the numbers "For Lovers Only". However, the highlights of this album are amazing, as the smooth sounds of "Get To Know Ya" kicks us off, and the reflective feel of "Lifetime" continues the feel good rhythm of the opening of this project and the trifecta comes with the relaxing sounds of "W/As My Girl", which is my personal favorite song on this album. Another personal favorite on this album is "Symptom Unknown", which is a slept on song in the Maxwell catalog without question. This album isn't Maxwell's best, but it's still a really good album. That should let you know how strong his catalog is if this album is at the bottom.

3. Embrya (1998)

-For some reason, a lot of people didn't seem to like this album when it first came out. Young True was a huge fan of this album then and I'm an even bigger fan of this album now. In some ways, it could be considered his best album, as it is his most daring album to date, and his most creative. Labeled as an alternative album, though it still packed that soul vibe, Embrya is essentially flawless and showcases more emotional depth than any Maxwell album could. The song titles are loaded so to speak, but how could one sleep on the smooth yet atmospheric nature of songs like "Drowndeep: Hula" and "Submerge: Til We Become The Sun"? These songs are amazing and some of the best work from Maxwell, but he manages to give his Urban Hang Suite fans that good old soul sound via the singles like "Luxury: Cococure" and the proposal anthem if you will on "Matrimony: Maybe You", both of which are great songs. There's nothing on this album that I personally dislike and I debated on placement for this list, but Embrya is a classic to me. The public didn't recognize the genius of it then, but I believe now they understand it. It is a great album with tremendous replay value and once again, on any other catalog, this album would be no. 1.

2. BlackSummersNight (2009)

-Now, this album being his second best might be shocking to some, and for others it was obvious. Maxwell took an 8 year hiatus and then came back with this 9 song epic, which is kicked off with what I feel is the best song on the entire album "Bad Habits". When I first heard the song, it was before the album actually released and I was in amazement at how great it was. The lyrics of "this is the highest cost.... take you and make you off... Love you and leave you lost.. will you forgive me", really drove home a point of perhaps a forbidden love, but for some reason, I've always felt this song had an underlying message of the price of fame and the struggle with it. The lyrics could be perceived that way without a doubt and it was just my interpretation of an already somewhat complex song. Another great song was the first single "Pretty Wings", but one of my personal favorites has to be the smooth bedroom anthem "Stop The World". The somber feel of "Fistful of Tears" fits perfectly with what was to be the theme of Maxwell's reported trilogy, which 7 years later still hasn't been completed or even seen a second part (he is rumored to release the next one this year). Regardless, this album is yet another flawless one in the Maxwell catalog and if you had this album at no. 1, I personally wouldn't be mad at you. It is definitely that great.

1. Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (1996)

-Was there really any other choice honestly? I mean, all objective opinions aside, this album is the holy grail. It is likely one of the best R&B and soul albums of the 90's period, so naturally this would be his best album. To put it plainly, this is Maxwell's Illmatic. No matter what he does in his career, even 20 years later, this is the album that stands as his best (to most of us) and the one we always reference when something new comes out from him ("that new album is good, but is it better than Urban Hang Suite" is usually the conversation). In another comparison to Illmatic if you will, Urban Hang Suite took some time to catch on with fans and debuted only at no. 38 on the Billboard charts upon its April 1996 release. Eventually, due to the power of the single "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)", as well as the smooth "Sumthin' Sumthin", the album would strike platinum. The singles were great, but what made this album so amazing can be found in some of the lesser known or heralded tracks. The opening groove of "Welcome" invoked a style that could fit perfect in the 70s as well, while "Dancewithme" is almost reminiscent of a disco soul sound. Every song on this album is great, but my two personal favorite remain the breakup aftermath song "Lonely's the Only Company" and the seductive "Suitelady (The Proposal Jam)", which starts off with the lyrics "it's been so long since I have got ya lady.... since I have had those brown legs wrapped around me.... the smell of she just drives me crazy.... imagine what the sight of her can do....", an instant aphrodisiac for any woman I'm sure. There is no limit to the greatness of this album and it is without a doubt the best Maxwell album.

Any comments or differing opinions? Post them below in the comments section.



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  2. As a person who never listened to Maxwell's music in the time it was popular (slightly before my time and I grew up in an anti-secular music household) I LOVE Embrya. I love it more than the Urban Hang Suite, just for the fact that I listen to and love EVERY song. Nothing is skippable. And I love how all the songs have an underwater vibe to it, like you are hearing it in the womb. Just brilliant.


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