After the breakthrough release of “Wake Me Up” last summer, it seems only natural that California soul singer Aloe Blacc’s third studio album Lift Your Spirit would follow it. Released in parts of Europe last fall, the record comes to the U.S. with a few added punches, some tracks rearranged, and others added. Record executives have been scrambling to posture Lift Your Spirit for a success that Blacc’s career prior to “Wake Me Up” hardly could have hinted at.
The 35-year-old singer flops around like a child dressed in his father’s shoes throughout the record-it comes off as something that started as a far simpler project, since inflated by Blacc’s growing popularity.
Blacc has an extraordinarily likeable sound-his deep voice is riddled with bright overtones. His lyricism is infectious: innocent, hopeful, and rare. Lift Your Spirit suffers from uneven production-producer DJ Khalil suffocates Blacc’s simple, playful songs under the weight of enormous faux-orchestrations. Blacc would have been served well performing with one live band throughout the album. Instead, the instrumentals onLift Your Spirit are heavily mechanized-much of the record keeps to a manufactured, big band sound that tries to force a hit out of every track. It feels studio-oriented and controlled. Lift Your Spirit is never sure whether it wants to sound like Michael Buble, Otis Redding, or Justin Timblelake. It grows into an awkward cocktail party of sounds that are unwilling to start conversation with each other.
Although it well may be the breakthrough record listeners have been waiting for, Lift Your Spirit is far from the album it could be. DJ Khalil’s overbearing production takes over later in the album in what seems to be an effort to give it a second life. This is an especially frustrating effort considering how many exceptional songs are included in the collection.
The original version of Lift Your Spirit released in Europe last fall was rearranged so that the three strongest songs would open the album. “The Man,” “Love Is the Answer,” and “Wake Me Up (Acoustic)” make for one of the most promising starts of any recent album. “Love Is the Answer,” the one track on the album produced by Pharrell Williams, was moved from the fourth slot to the second, while the record’s lovable, albeit offbeat, title track was moved from being the seventh track to the 11th. This excessive rearranging was a brilliantly strategic, but artistically uninspired decision.
Blacc’s 2010 single “I Need A Dollar” never saw the success of his later bluegrass-EDM partnership with Avicii on “Wake Me Up,” but both stand as milestones in Blacc’s career. His voice on these two tracks does a wondrous thing, bringing together disparate-and before unreconciled-styles of music. Blacc brought classic soul into a conversation with the mainstream.
Lift Your Spirit is far from a disappointing record, and it’s refreshing to know there’s an audience for artists like Blacc in 2014-his work borders on campy, but never quite gets there. He sings in preachy verses that are too earnest to discredit and too fun to be annoying.
Blacc’s playful energy comes out particularly in “Can You Do This,” a call-and-answer dance song that gives the listener no clue as to what sort of dance it’s describing-a chorus of “Can you do this (Yeah I can do that)” is repeated ad nauseam, eventually concluding with the lyrics, “I know you think that you can move / But can you groove the way I groove?” It’s silly writing, an absurd moment mixed in with Blacc’s otherwise sentimental verses. Peeling away the layers of mechanical production, Blacc is an appealingly weird dude with a sense of humor and acute manner addressing somewhat platitudinal topics.
An awful lot was done to dress Blacc up on Lift Your Spirit and make a superstar of an artist who’s already come into his own. The record feels too manipulated to come across as a cohesive project, and yet, Blacc’s so likable that it’s easy to overlook the album’s shortcomings and just appreciate Lift Your Spirit for an exceptional voice and all the promise in Blacc’s career.