In 1996, Maxwell released his debut album, “Urban Hang Suite,” which told the story of a young man going out to a nightclub, having a one-night stand with a woman and then never hearing from her ever again. Max’s inspiration for this particular album came from having said affair. He was hoping that the woman he encountered would react to the lyrics of each song. She never replied, so he decided to move on with his life and therefore the remainder of his career. On a personal note: I didn’t pick this album up until a few months before his second album, “Embrya” was due for release in early ’98. I was only 16 at the time, but I can still remember the guy at the store’s exact words to me: “Gee, you’ve got good taste. Most kids are into that KC & Jo Jo stuff. This guy kills the hell out of it.” Surely Maxwell would disagree. Anyway, onto the review:
The Urban Theme: Motown legend Wah-Wah Watson lays down some funky guitar riffs while an old vinyl record crackles in the background along with a modern-day hip hop beat, a Fender Rhodes piano and some sexy sax riffs. It’s almost like the credits are rolling before a movie. It sets the tone perfectly for what we are about to hear, but most importantly, it proves that the FUNK was alive and well in 1996. The song eventually fades out and a few more Wah-Wah licks can be heard, which segue into….
Welcome: Maxwell sings the first song on the album ever-so delicately, to the point where he almost sounds like Michael Jackson. It’s a very classy song about his one-night stand where he’s telling the woman in question that she’s still welcome in his life, despite never hearing from her again. “If you don’t talk to me, tomorrow will never be.” Damn. Towards the end, Wah-Wah Watson lays down some more smoothed out, yet very funky guitar riffs. Yes, your mind WILL be blown by DA FUNK!
Sumthin’ Sumthin’: The first all-out dance number on the album was written by Leon Ware, who also wrote “I Want You” for Marvin Gaye. Max sings of a girl who fails to pay him any attention, but he still wants to show his affection and lose himself inside her ebony. That is surely a creative description, as is, “Honey Doo Sugar Chocolate Dumpling. Flavour with a coco kind of flow.” The bass-lines on this one will slap you right in your un-funky face! The Fender Rhodes gives it that real vintage feel. It’s great stuff.
Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder): Just lay back and chill as the intro to this song rides out. Listen to that deep bass guitar and those funky guitar riffs that almost glide throughout the song. That’s very cool. Now check out Max and his absolutely soaring falsetto as he imitates that funky wah-wah guitar riff. GOT-DAMN! Matter of fact, his falsetto in general on this one is like WHOA! Max sings of a woman that he sees as somebody who never should’ve been just a fantasy and states that she’s “the highest of the high.” WOW! That girl must have had a real affect on him. Max is still one of those artists who isn’t that well known among the mainstream crowd, so you could argue that he never really had any hit songs, but this one probably comes close. And it went down very well both times he played live in Sydney.
Dancewitme: One more funky one for the road. The bass is booming again on the track as Max grooves to the music in a club while he’s watching a certain female on the dance floor who looks “so very cool.” You can tell he was influenced by Prince & Marvin Gaye, especially by the way he harmonises with himself here. Man, that guitar riff is almost gliding again. Wah-Wah Watson is da shit! This song was also featured in a TV commercial down here in Australia for a product called Dove Chocolate. Seriously!
…Til The Cops Come Knockin’: The first ballad on the album is sung in Maxwell’s soaring, crisp, clean falsetto, which is obviously a bit more husky these days. But anyway, it’s most definitely quite a sexy tune that he’s bringing forth. And it also brings one more word to mind. Or rather, one name: PRINCE. Max was talking about locking his woman up for days so that they could “rock” until the cops came knocking, while comparing himself to lotion on her body! DAMN! Max also recorded a much funkier version of this song with entirely different lyrics, which was simply called, “Lock You Up ’N’ Love Fa Days.” Yep. He’s definitely a Prince fan. For sure. He used to do that all the time in the ‘90s.
Whenever Wherever Whatever: Evidently, Maxwell really gave this song his all when he sang it, as his voice sounds absolutely superb up against those acoustic guitars and pianos. It’s quite a soothing tune, which, admittedly is even a little extreme, especially lyrics like: “If ever there’s a thing that you need, I give you the breath that I breathe” and “For you and your blood I will bleed.” Ultimately, it depends on the person: Some women may find that to be sweet and heartfelt, others might pull back and call you creepy.
Lonely’s The Only Company (I & II): Maxwell has been left all by his lonesome. His heart has been ripped into shreds. Torn apart. So now he is trying every so hard not to cry his eyes out. Therefore, “Lonely’s The Only Other Company” could double very nicely as a break-up song. And it’s been split up into two separate parts. Here’s another bit of interesting trivia for you: Maxwell’s next album, “Embrya” was seen as a huge departure from “Urban Hang Suite,” yet he re-used the melody from the background harmonies of this song in “Gravity: Pushing To Pull.”
Reunion: A Fender Rhodes piano introduces us to yet another ballad, sung entirely in falsetto, while a very eighties influenced beat is being used as its back-drop. The violins gives it a very cinematic type of feeling and some of the guitar riffs are slightly reggae influenced, which clearly displays Maxwell’s Caribbean heritage. He’s singing about re-uniting with his woman, whom can never be compared to anybody else. Mr Max should get out more often. Although, by now he surely has. “I’m in yo’ ear, don’t you fear.” Again, certain women would be more inclined to yell, “CREEP ALERT!”
Suitelady (The Proposal Jam): That eighties beat continues on this next jam, where Max is doing his best Marvin Gaye impersonation, singing in a much raspier type of voice: “Since I have had yo’ brown legs wrapped around me,” he croons. What an image he’s created in the listener’s mind! This song is subtitled “The proposal jam” because its chorus says, “Ain’t no end to what this ring wants to begin with you.” He then concludes the song by getting down on his knee and proposing. Listen as Max sings, “Suitelady, please baby… background,” then those funky ass keyboards come in. That’s gotta be Amp Fiddler! This is the funkiest, most soulful marriage proposal ever.
The Suite Theme: A much more placid closing theme this time to take us out. It’s very soothing and seductive. Very chilled out, too. You can definitely hear elements from the intro. Max whispers a few words to his woman like, “You can take your time… see what you want,” before he keeps repeating the phrase, “Keep hanging just a little longer” as the tune fades out. And if you listen carefully to the very last few seconds of this song, it even sounds like he’s whispering: “Show me your titties.” Seriously.
…Til The Cops Come Knockin’ (Reprise): Back when this CD came out, hidden tracks were all the rage and that’s essentially what this is: It was tacked onto the very last song, so that you would think the album was over, but it wasn’t! A-ha! But it’s not much, it’s only a short instrumental version of ’Til The Cops Come Knocking.” Only goes for about a minute and forty-two seconds.
Verdict: Whenever Maxwell gives interviews, he says that the “Urban Hang Suite” was a sketch of what he thought a Funk album would be. What he doesn’t know is that his first album actually brought a young kid who lives on the other side of the world BACK to the Funk and it made him rediscover the kind of music that he always loved at heart. So, Max and all of the wonderful musicians featured on this album should all be patting himself on the back. Furthermore, while “Urban Hang Suite” was released during a time where artists like Maxwell were considered Neo-Soul, it still managed to be quite a funky and soulful album. And a solid one at that, which STILL doesn’t sound like anything created around the same time. It’s already a timeless classic from beginning to end. ‘Nuff said.