Musiq Soulchild, "Feel the Real" (eOne Music)
Besides its double-album length, the most ear-catching aspect of Musiq Soulchild's "Feel the Real" is the chance to hear the Philadelphia-born artist during nearly every moment of his eighth album.
"Feelt the Real" is long, dense and mostly fulfilling, but Musiq's omnipresence also requires commitment to get through its more than 97 minutes at once.
Doubling down on varied aspects of love and romance, from the popular theme of friends with "Benefits" and the insistent-but-not-in-a-stalking-kind-of-way persistence of "Sooner or Later," to the Stevie Wonder-sounding "Like the Weather" and its determination to outlast the forecast, to the head-over-heels passionate abandon of the title track, the man born Taalib Johnson has crafted an often truly spectacular set.
As with many, if not most, double albums, quality control seems to slip a bit on the second disc, despite its highlights.
There are alluring sonic details spread along the two discs — a nearly prog-rock guitar at the start of "Test Drive," big band drums launching "Sooner or Later," an Isaac Hayes-like soul feel on "Start Over" and a guitar-piano combination that screams Radiohead on "Hard Liquor" — but sometimes they taper off deeper into the songs, dissolving some of their appeal.
Album closer "Simple Things" contains a few elements some of the other songs could have benefited from in larger doses — an instrumental solo and about 20 seconds of stripped-down vocals which charm with their beauty and, duh, simplicity.
Clearly, there's a lot of music in Musiq Soulchild these days — he also released an album in 2016 — and, despite some excesses, "Feel the Real" reaffirms him as a dependable source of quality R&B, hip-hop, soul or whatever category he's into or placed in at this moment.