The year is 2015 and Leon Bridges has just become an international star. The Texas-born singer exploded into fame with his hit single “Coming Home,” and an equally infectious album of the same name. Bridges was celebrated for his allusions to the '60s, both in sound and in appearance, which led to his subsequent GRAMMY nomination as well as a grip of tired Sam Cooke comparisons. During his rise to R&B acclaim, though, Leon Bridges has maintained that he is no one if not himself. With his latest album, Good Thing, Bridges has proven exactly that.
By all accounts, Good Thing is far more forward-thinking and mature than Coming Home. In three years time, Bridges’ writing and vocal delivery have aged like a fine wine in a specially chosen wooden barrel in some posh European cellar. Each track on Good Thing is enveloped in a mahogany richness and thrives off of an effortless crispness. There are flashes of power-pop, jazz, soul, blues, and a penchant for cutting acoustic guitar riffs.
While the album flourishes in its contemporary sound, Bridges’ guttural understanding of the essence of soul and R&B allow him to innovate without becoming obsessed with boundary-breaking to a fault. Three years older and more experienced, Bridges credits his time away from music as central to his growth on the record. In the years between Coming Home and Good Thing, he has lived enough lives for three men, and it shows.
“Bad Bad News,” the record’s stunning, whiskey-drenched lead single, communicates as much when Bridges sings the album’s essential mission statement:“They tell me I was born to lose / But I made a good good thing out of bad bad news.” There we have it: Good Thing is a Rolodex of lives led by a leading man with a bleeding heart and a vintage panache.
From that maturity comes a more playful, wonderfully coy songwriting style. The wisps of seduction and adoration that made Coming Home a smash have evolved into leering glances and wistful thinking on Good Thing. Take the humble gesturing of “Shy,” “I just want to see ya, you could come over / I know ya shy, you can be shy with me / You know I need you and I’m not quite sober / I know ya shy baby, you can be shy, it’s alright.” These lyrics belie Bridges’ comfort with his desire and play like a long glide down the bar top.
He’s oh so in love, but not averse to a good time. With that, Bridges’ honeycomb vocals are equal parts syrupy and gravelly. His full-bodied and expansive range on “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” is nicely contrasted by the textured and aching notes on “Shy.” Bridges can pull heart-tugging bass notes from his chest for “Georgia to Texas” as easily as he can summon a classy, funkified rave on “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be).”
Sadly, we find the album’s blind spot in the upbeat as well. Where “If It Feels Good” gives us an inch of infectious funk, “You Don’t Know” takes that energy and dresses it up for a basement romp. Isolated, “You Don’t Know” is phenomenal single material, but in the context of the album, the track plays like a rapid in the river: thrilling, but disorienting. One could argue that “You Don’t Know” provides some reprieve, but the preceding tracks are nowhere near cumbersome nor morose enough to warrant such a left-hook palate cleanser.
Even so, for 10 tracks, Good Thing is a globetrotting album, hitting every nook and cranny of love in just 35 minutes. There is lust, redemption, glory, and attrition. On “Forgive You,” Bridges catalogs the minutia that sums up to a pure love driven by forgiveness and good faith. Sewn together by acoustic riffing, this ballad is as refined as they come. The forgiveness, too, is a sign of Bridges’ maturity. Offset by his friends urging him to save his breath on the track, he confronts the sacrifice demanded by love.
The preceding “Beyond” speaks to a love that rattles and to the fear that tinges a cherished thing. With a subtle twang in his voice, Bridges affects the creeping anxiety that swells when a relationship begins to take more stock in your life. But his insecurities aren’t fronted in a toxic manner. Instead, Bridges sings from the pits of humility to paint a unilateral picture.
He approaches love and fall out with an even more attractive humility on “Mrs.” He details a romance that is equal parts toxic, reserves judgement, and delivers a leveling observation: “You know that I think you the love of my life / But lovin’ and hatin’ is such a fine line.” All across Good Thing Bridges' writing feels just as lived in, accentuated by a booming delivery that’s nicely worn, boasting a bright veneer when his vocals soar.
At its best, Good Thing might be R&B’s answer to the impressive wave of grown-man rap, and a testament to letting life unfurl before you follow up a hit. At its worst, and we use that term very lightly, the record boasts a Prince reference track that’s meant to be a bonus cut. That is to say, the only downside on Good Thing is that Leon Bridges may be too talented for everyone’s own good.
In 2015, Leon Bridges innovated upon soul in a giddy whisper, but on Good Thing, he’s moving the genre forward with a bellied shout. Delivering a record as textured and intuitive as Good Thing in only three years' time implies Leon Bridges is one of the most perceptive artists of our generation. If his next album were to take another three, four, five years, we should be more than comfortable waiting. For now, throw the needle down on Good Thing and live in its richness.
Three Standout Songs
“Bad Bad News”
The song lives at the intersection of glassy eyes and jazzy instrumentation. “Bad Bad News” is as inspired by contemporary dance rhythms as it is soul and funk, with Bridges tying all of his influences together with his vintage swagger.
“Beyond” is a masterclass in tender ballads. The track is written and delivered with an attractive humility, playing at the universal anxiety of losing the one you love, but without letting worry consume him. The track flourishes in its bluesy tendencies and proves Bridges to be an intuitive man.
“If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)”
The upbeat high of the album. Skittering electric guitars and glimmers in the percussion outfit Bridges’ gravely vocals. “If It Feels Good” thrives off an undeniable, slinking, and flirtatious energy. At some party somewhere, this track is dominating the dancefloor.