For being one of the more conflicting albums of 2012, the most simple explanation for The Bravest Man in The Universe is, it is a success of a return for soul-veteran Bobby Womack. While it manages to seamlessly blend many genres while providing a musical journey it also can at times be quite boring or even worse, corny. With a very soft and spare sound, utilizing space in some of the best ways since The XX debut, the predominate instrumentation is drum machine, synth and acoustic piano. Despite age taking a slight toll on the clarity of Womack’s voice, he is as emotive as ever. He quickly asserts himself as being an aged storyteller on the title track opener. With a few great guest (and one not-so-great guest) vocalists all complimenting Womack’s vision, the over all tone of reflection and hope, with a dash of regret, is always being advanced.
At it’s best, the album creates heights of emotion and sweeping beauty while, at it’s worse it gets trudges along or gets cutesy. On “Please Forgive My Heart” the drive of the drum machine and the gentleness of the piano create a wonderful base for Womack’s suffering; displayed with a grunts, abrupt cut-offs and bursts of intensity. The beautiful line “Please forgive my heart / It’s not like the problem lies anywhere in there” is so incredibly simple yet dense, it shows what this man (with the right people) are capable of very early on. Later, in a completely different way, on “Stupid” an intentionally odd and slightly sloppy moment of scatting, accompanied by a voice that sounds similar to co-poducer Damon Alburn (who is having a wonderful year for projects) creates gorgeousness amongst honesty. Not unlike the TV show Louie. However, the track “Love is Gonna Lift You Up” becomes absolutely goofy due to poor synth sounds and predictable rhythms. A shame, that could have created more simple poignancy. “Sweet Baby Mine”, a track that slowly introduces new synth textures to deepen the mood, ultimately falls flat because of a lack of build. The worst moment unsurprisingly comes from Lana Del Rey’s guest spot on “Dayglo Reflection”, which has the interesting idea of, after having Womack open the song, taking a voice-over discussing the wisdom a singer develops with age and then letting a younger singer perform afterwards. One would guess this younger singer would sing with the agitation of finding one’s self but, that is never going to be achieved with Del Rey living up to her reputation of complete boringness and detached “coolness”.
But then the beautiful last track, an epilogue of sorts, takes the spiritual “Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You Round” and adds an intense electric stomp to it. On top of this Womack sings melody as well as an odd and disjunct harmony that has appeared throughout the record. What results is an awe-inducing feeling of drive amongst a creative and unconventional blend of genres. This is the embodiment of what makes this record so great. Now obviously, with most records that veer into a seldom explored territory (especially by an already well-established artist), this album is a grower. Here’s to what more this album will reveal of itself as well as what Womack (and hopefully Alburn) have in mind for the future. B
– Kyle Kraft
The Bravest Man in the Universe is out June 12th, on XL