I don’t do love songs. I don’t really do love at all.
My Valentine's Day plans include seeing Deadpool with bae. That's the level of romance I'm operating on.
I can’t help it, I’ve never been a Valentine's Day guy, the whole thing is so forced. A fake holiday invented by the chick-flick era, Matthew McConaughey and Hallmark. Come to think of it, I’m not the most romantic guy on the other 364 days of the year either. Just keeping my own shit together is a full-time job, I don't know if I can handle adding another person to the mix. If I lived with someone, I couldn’t eat cereal in bed and write a review of a really great album from BJ The Chicago Kid (that part is coming, I swear). Maybe it’s the wrong way to look at it, but a relationship is a sacrifice, and I’m not ready to surrender just yet.
As great as freedom can be, when I’m riding home on the last train of the night on a Friday, when I am scrolling through Facebook and seeing rings that cost more than three months rent or getting invited to weddings, I can't help but feel like maybe there’s something I'm missing. Eventually you get to the point where you just want to know how to acquire this thing that so many other people seem to so confidently have, especially R&B singers.
And that’s why I don’t really do love songs.
With love songs we often get the extremes, the lowest lows and the highest highest. You are either "Rolling in the Deep" or "Walking On The Moon." Where’s the balance? What about those of us in purgatory? Those who don't share relationships on Facebook or do flowers, puppies and candy? Where’s our anthem?
Well, our anthem has arrived. It's called In My Mind.
That balance I've looking for is all over this album. BJ’s ability to master so many different sounds and styles, often on the same song, is one of the strengths of this LP. I could see the BJ The Chicago Kid who crafted “The New Cupid” riding the last Metro car with me. He too is jaded, a little bit buzzed, tired of going out to crowded bars only to talk to strangers that never turn into more. He too realizes the expectations on us--the white picket fence--feel like a fading dream; an unrealistic, impractical kind of love. Despite the way he smoothly croons over cushioned, almost sticky beats, I can hear the exhaustion.
It’s hard to believe that's the same person on the sultry “Love Inside.” The passion on that song comes from another part of his brain, or maybe his heart, or maybe - with the way those drums bang like a headboard - somewhere else. Despite a typically cynical outlook I can relate to BJ there too. The coldest heart is no match for the way she gives you that burning stare.
While love is a consistent theme on the album it’s not the only one. “Crazy” and “Falling On My Face” are about success and failure, balancing two opposite ideas like getting high and then going to church the next day on the same song. I can take a love song or two, but I just can't take 12 in a row, which is why I'm loving In My Mind. This isn’t a break up album or a love album, it’s a life album.
While BJ's vocals are dynamically balanced, more attention could have been paid to finding that balance sonically. My relationship with BJ is nurtured by his countless hip-hop features and this album includes everyone from Chance the Rapper to Big K.R.I.T., but it's "Man Down" featuring lesser knowns Buddy and Constantine that's the standout. While the emcees man the frontlines, it’s BJ who ultimately wins the war with the way he manipulates his vocals. At times he gives them a static, muffled feel, other times it’s a stretched lurching sound. The different effects build on each other and give "Man Down" a very palpable, incendiary energy.
Unfortunately, we never reach that energy level on any other song on the album. BJ has the rare ability to be so purely soulful, but he also has that even rarer ability to make me go absolutely bananas. I was kind of disappointed we didn't get that side of him more often, the side that ventures off into sounds most soul singers can even dream of. He’s such a unique talent and I would have liked to hear that reflected sonically.
I may not be ready to be make sacrifices in real life, but with this album I have no trouble. Not getting enough crazy energy is a small price to pay for an album that provides such a deeply rewarding experience. I came into this album wondering if BJ could escape the "guest singer" label and hold down a major label album on his own but I ended up writing about love.
I love this album, now if I could only figure out the rest...