Van Hunt’s third album, “Popular” was originally scheduled for release in early 2008, just after he’d signed a new recording deal with legendary jazz imprint, Blue Note Records. The executives at the time didn’t know what to make of the overall finished product, so they asked him to change his sound in order for him to achieve commercial success. Hunt declined and left the label behind, along with the project at hand. “Popular” then leaked on the internet, where its popularity grew like wildfire among his fan-base. In the years that followed, Hunt desperately tried to buy back the masters in an attempt to release the project on his own terms. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. Finally, on the 11th of August 2017, Hunt and the record label’s new president, Don Was agreed to an official digital release. It was a long time coming. Surely, Mr Hunt would feel justified at this point. The album was already reviewed on this amateur writer’s old blog back in 2008, but… it’s a celebration, bitches!! Here’s a new do review for 2017:
Turn My TV On: Van paints a rather vivid picture of quite a reclusive fellow who sits in his room all day, while in the process allowing such things as internet message boards and TV shows to run his entire life. It definitely has a funky groove, which this particular listener always found to be reminiscent of Prince’s “Dirty Mind” era. He gets even more Prince and George Clinton influenced towards the end of the song, as he speeds his voice up: “Somebody bring me some water!!” Pretty cool opening tune.
Prelude (The Dimples On Your Bottom): A man’s girlfriend has left him for her female companion and now he’s asking her to dance for him, so that they can all get together and have a little fun… while he admires the dimples on her backside. Yes, this is literally the concept here. Initially the arrangement sounded slightly off-beat. Perhaps you could even say… drunk. Especially the drums and the guitar riff, but it’s still kinda funky. That keyboard solo at a minute and twenty one seconds is pretty wild. Great horns, too. Van shares his vocals with the lady in question… not literally of course, somebody in his band is playing the role, asking him to let she and her lover in.
Your Personal Army: Another funky one where Van is more or less telling his woman that he’s going to be supportive of her, but he’s comparing himself to an army, metaphorically speaking of course: “Just call on me, I’ll be your personal army. Your anecdote for despair.” The drums are almost marching, so it matches what he’s saying quite well.
Popular/Count’s Coda: At last! Van Hunt includes a title track on one of his albums. It’s a much more laid back type of tune, where he poses the question of, “What sets you apart? How can you be popular?” Even though that popularity may only last for about fifteen minutes. It ends with a spoken word piece by a rapper known professionally as Count D Bass. He uses the phrase, “Now you the HHIC.” Sounds like he’s suggesting, “Now you the shit,” but it actually stands for “Head Hoe In Charge.”
In The Southern Shade: This song just makes you wanna kick back and relax because it’s so light and breezy. The sounds of children laughing and birds chirping make you visualise exactly what’s going on. Unfortunately, its subject matter is not exactly uplifting: It was created after Van’s second album, “On The Jungle Floor” had flopped. Hence, “Life of a former rock star looks good on me.” He obviously wanted and still wants commercial success. Like any artist, really.
There’s Never A Good Time To Say Goodbye: Van Hunt’s ballads were always quite cinematic and this one is certainly no exception. The strings sound beautiful up against the piano and his voice. It can be interpreted any way you choose, but it’s clearly a break-up song, so it’ll make you feel all kinds of sad and teary-eyed. Especially when he’s talking about reliving the memories. Break out the Kleenex for this one.
Feelings: Now it’s time for a little bumping and grinding: “Girl, let me lay my healing hands,” he sings to his woman. Like Prince’s dad in “Purple Rain,” he doesn’t write ‘em down (“don’t need paper or a pen,”) his girl inspires him to write songs that he can remember. The bass is quite deep on this one and it creates a really great atmosphere. It seems to have quite a lo-fi type of sound, which is cool… gives it that arty type of vibe.
Sex N Magic: The sexy vibe continues on this next jam, which is actually listed as “SNM.” Thankfully it’s not about what you think it is! He’s just talking about living out “a fantasy that could be tragic,” while wanting to eat his cake and have it. Exactly his words. You can hear him in the background chanting, “Position, position, position.” Nasty Van Hunt. Uh-oh…. that’s not even the half of it. Check out what’s next.
The Lowest One Of My Desires: It’s funny how everyone tends to gravitate towards the most explicit songs they hear. This one is no exception, as it features Van unashamedly singing the phrase, “I want to fuck you, baby” all the way through. He even screams it out at the top of his lungs towards the end of the tune over an absolutely raging guitar riff. It’s otherwise funky as hell and it’s certainly more than a little reminiscent of the late, great purple one, especially the drum beat and funky guitar riff. Not to mention the subject matter.
Break Down Your Door: Another chilled out one, which could be interpreted either as country western or blues. “Nothing else is half as good, don’t make me break down your door.” Quite a catchy chorus from Van Hunt. Clearly he’s in the mood for some more loving because it was so good the first time. So, like…. Taylor Swift can start out as a country singer and get famous, but Van Hunt does this type of song and he gets swept under the rug? Sheeiiiiiid.
You’re A Monster, Parts 1 & 2: A rather unique break-up song, in which Van Hunt compares his ex-lover to a monster: “Hell is where you are, till you’re back in my arms again.” He takes it to an even further level in Part Two: “I’ll hunt you down like an animal… hang yo’ head like art on the wall.” He’s clearly torn between still lusting over her, claiming her love was so good that he wanted to save it, yet at the very same time, he’s talking about how terrible she is. He even calls her the devil! This song features the line: “Heaven was made for little girls,” which he also made mention of earlier in the “Prelude.” There was clearly a connection, then.
Blood From A Heart Of Stone: Possibly the most Prince-inspired song on the album, thanks to the multilayered harmonies in the chorus along with the drum programming and funky guitar riffs. It’s definitely another sexy one, too with lines like: “Don’t you think that I’m a great lover?… put the pillow to your mouth and scream.” Although, if somebody has a heart of stone, then they’re not a very nice person. Speaking of which, he made mention of “the blood from our stone” in the previous song and then he followed it up with this one. He would pull the very same trick on “The Fun Rises” album in 2015. Which begs the question, why’s this guy always singing about blood? And cold, monstrous women?
Bits & Pieces: Just as he did in the first song, Van is painting himself to be quite a lonely fellow in this tune, sitting all alone in his lair, looking back on how he lured his former lover into his life, but now she’s gone, even though “bits and pieces” of her remain. Yep, it’s another break-up song. One of the many featured on this album. Its beat is quite reminiscent of Sly Stone’s ‘70s material. He’s come full circle with this one.
Finale (It All Ends In Tears): A very brief acoustic number, which… frankly speaking sounds a little too upbeat to be about shedding tears of sadness, so it must all end in tears of joy in this case. Yep, Van and his female band member say it all in the lyrics: “When sleep is sweet, what do you dream? To be a lady in the streets of happy endings in the sheets.” Although, would anyone want to end up in the streets? Not likely! Still a great way to end the album, though.
Verdict: Anyone who appreciates good, quality, wholesome, poetic, heart-wrenching soul music will undoubtedly enjoy this album from beginning to end. There is not one single dud on this album and it absolutely deserves to be heard by all! Go forth and spread the word about Van Hunt. Seriously, let’s show ‘em what real music is all about.