Maxwell’s second album, “EMBRYA” was yet another conceptually-based collection of songs, originally released in mid 1998. Maxwell was talking about creation, seemingly basing the album underwater, or in a womb, if you will, which may seem like quite a strange concept, but he was most likely trying to go for something different, as opposed to the straightforwardness of his debut album, “Urban Hang Suite.” Perhaps it was a little too soon for that. Years later, Maxwell was doing a live TV special, where he stated that he looked back and asked, “Why did I do that?” Good question. For now, let’s take a look at the “Embrya” album…. and let me also point out, this album is VERY BASS heavy. Whoa!:
Gestation: Mythos: Essentially, this is just an intro to the album, which comprises of the sounds of water bubbling, backwards instrumentation and several different people including Maxwell, reciting a poem about a pregnant woman who was about to give birth to a child, who was destined to be “the bridge into the millennium.” Let’s not forget: Back in 1998, we were only a couple of years away from “the year 2000.” Exciting. “Gestation: Mythos” is certainly not an easy intro to listen to. In fact, it’s quite strange and trippy. Originally, it was listed as Track 00 on the CD and you had to rewind the first song in order to access it. Of course nowadays, it’s right at your fingertips on Apple Music and iTunes.
Everwanting: To Want You To Want: The introduction to the first proper song on the album rides out for exactly a minute and twenty seconds before Max finally steps to the mic and croons: “Lay all night, here on top if you want to,” which would of course give one the indication that this is going to be a very sexy and seductive type of tune, especially when he states: “Where you touched was such a no-no.… I love it oh so much.” He describes the feeling as being “suiter” than candy. Hey, this is rock & roll… spell how ya like, Max. The very same string arrangement from “Gestation: Mythos” can also be heard in this song, along with the phrase, “A blush filled plushe.”
I’m You: You Are Me And We Are You (Pt. Me and You): Now it’s time for Maxwell and his band to lay down some funk, which he’s combined with a very eighties-sounding drum pattern. Again it’s sexy as hell and he even asks the listeners if they’re feeling as such. He begins the song by singing in Spanish. Then, in the second verse, he translates exactly what he just said: “I’m reaching for, this deep inside, this deep in me where she resides.” Max sates that this person is “beyond the me, where you will be.” It’s poetic, that’s for sure.
Luxury: Cococure: The first single released from the album may’ve been a little too funky for some. The wah-wah licks are on some other shit, they almost sound like a camera taking pictures. Lyrically, it’s quite cryptic: “Lady lover, never go, you’re the part of my heart that is soul.” “It’s a privacy that y’all should know.” Clearly, he was letting us into a certain part of his life that he otherwise would’ve kept hidden. In other words, he was getting over the girl he had a one-night stand with on the first album. Around the time of this album’s release, Max was saying that this was the most difficult song to write because he kept hearing it all different kinds of ways before finally settling on this version.
Drowndeep: Hula: The bass is booming all over this gorgeous ballad, which was co-written and co-produced by Stuart Matthewman of Sade fame, hence its very Sade vibe, especially the guitar riff, which can be heard earlier, but is much more noticeable at about three minutes and forty-four seconds in. Clearly, this song was meant to be used as your backdrop while you and that special somebody were, well… you know… we’ll let you do the math here. Max definitely knew he was throwing a lot of people off when he made this album, as he starts this song off with the words, “Confusing as this is.” Either they’ve used a sample of another song that hasn’t been credited, or it’s just an affect, but every now and then you can hear the sound of an old vinyl record crackling all the way through this one.
Matrimony: Maybe You: They’re getting funky again on this next one, which is evidently about Mr Max trying to find himself a wife to settle down with. Although, given that its opening lines and chorus are, “Maybe you might be more than just a one night lady,” it makes you wonder whether or not this was a left over from the “Urban Hang Suite” album. “Tell me what you thought I thought, you thought, I thought.” Err… right, Max. “Matrimony: Maybe U” segues into…..
Arroz con Pollo: Just a short instrumental funk jam, that more or less continues on from the previous track. Most likely added for consistency, as it only clocks in at about 2:58. Let’s face it, nobody is going to listen to this song separately! In case you’re wondering, “Arroz Con Pollo” is Spanish for “Rice With Chicken.” The horns sound brilliant on this one. For sure. Maxwell is funky! Lawd have mercy.
Know These Things: Shouldn’t You: Maxwell sings this acoustic-based ballad entirely in falsetto and you can really feel all of the pain and the vulnerability in his voice. It can be heard right from the second he sings the opening phrase: “You stung. As if you knew I’d sting right there.” “Know These Things” was once again co-written and co-produced by Stuart Matthewman of Sade. Perhaps it depends on the individual, but you really need to have a certain level of maturity in order to fully appreciate this song.
Submerge: Til We Become The Sun: The very same music that was used in the opening hidden track, “Gestation: Mythos” is being used once again for this particular song. However, it’s obviously being played forward. It never really hits you the first few times you hear this song, but the beat is pulsating and hypnotising. It’s almost like a heartbeat. There’s even a harp being played on this track along with violins and other stringed instruments that you wouldn’t necessarily hear on an R&B record. Now that was daring! Of course the lyrics are as seductive as always, but it gets even deeper than that: “See if I’m breathing because I’m not sure tonight if I’m alive.” Wow.
Gravity: Pushing To Pull: Did you ever hear that one about the scary Maxwell? Well he’s on display right here: “Though you know I’m haunting. Though you taste I’m stalking.” Whoa! This is what you get for not paying him any mind in that night club, you one night stand chickie from “Urban Hang Suite.” Anyways, he’s re-used the melody from the harmonies on “Lonely’s The Only Other Company” on this one. Maxwell’s West Indian heritage really comes through, especially on the beat. This one is chock full of strings as well, which is great.
Eachhoureachsecondeachminuteeachday: Of My Life: Clearly quite a Prince/George Clinton-inspired song-title with falsetto vocals and harmonies, which also seem to reflect Maxwell’s Prince influence. Then you have the chorus: “Do me till I’m done, till comes up the sun.” Wow. Oversexed much? No, seriously this is a really great tune that’s once again based so heavily in FUNK with the slapped baselines and guitar riffs. It’s a very cool song…. even if he sings the chorus very fast like Bone Thugs ’N’ Harmony. To slow it all down, though its title would really look like this: “Each Hour, Each Second, Each Minute, Each Day Of My Life.” But even THAT is too long for radio DJ’s to pronounce.
Embrya: Just the music from “Gestation: Mythos” and “Submerge,” which has been reversed once again. If he was trying to create something other worldly or trippy, then you could argue that he’s done a good job, but it would’ve been better if it wasn’t reversed at all and that was the closer for the album. Thankfully, we now have programs like Audacity.
Verdict: Maxwell’s second album is definitely one that deserves very close listening. It’s not an easy record to fully comprehend or grasp and it’s certainly not fluffy pop music made for a commercial audience that’s going to fade away in two seconds. It’s grown, it’s sexy, it’s timeless. It’s a great work of art which will be dissected, discussed and enjoyed for many generations to come. And if any album has that kind of affect on its listeners, job well done.