Over the weekend a lot of my Facebook friends reposted a CNN piece called “Where Is The Love In R&B?” that served as a sort of lengthy “get off my lawn with your sex and hedonism” diatribe; while it’s undoubtedly true that commercial radio is more crass today than it was back in the era of WPIX playing nothing but love songs, the piece was not without its many issues, from citing that awfully flawed study about the narcissism in popular music that was floating around earlier this year to blaming the rise of the laptop musician for the nosedive in songs the writer saw as romantic. (Not to mention that it took Miguel’s ode to getting off “Quickie” to task while failing to notice that his screwed-down fidelity pledged had actually performed better on the airplay-based R&B chart—by topping it.) What better day than today, which marks the release of Robin Thicke’s super-uxorious, quite fantastic Love After War, to rebut the claims about R&B being a complete wasteland? Six tracks from this year that made the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts and that will melt even the coldest heart (take it from someone who knows!) below.
Beyoncé, “Love On Top” (current R&B chart position/peak: No. 28)
Fact: The rolling key changes at the end are one of the—if not the—best purely musical displays of falling deeper and deeper in love with someone to be put to wax this year. (Hey, there’s a reason gear-shifting works.)
Eric Roberson feat. Phonte, “Picture Perfect” (current R&B chart position No. 76; peaked at No. 63)
The blooming synths underneath Roberson’s handclap-assisted outpouring of love eventually narrow into a sine-wave keyboard solo at the end, one that is probably designed to represent Roberson’s target’s acquiescence to the fact that he finds her absolutely stunning.
Lloyd feat. Awesome Jones!!!, “Cupid” (R&B chart peak: No. 11)
I have a pretty strong pro-Lloyd critical bias, it’s true. But this sweeter-than-sweet treatise on what it’s like to let oneself fall into infatuation with someone new for the first time never fails to make me smile—its booming bass recalls a heart excitedly thudding in one’s chest, and Lloyd’s vocal delivery further underscores the feelings of delight and optimism that go hand-in-hand with romance’s first blushes.
Miguel, “Sure Thing” (current R&B chart position No. 17; peaked at No. 1)
Miguel’s rolling list of analogies for how devoted he is to his woman might come off as a little cheesy to some, but who doesn’t descend into schmaltz now and then when trying to verbally quantify infatuation?
Chris Walker, “Everyday Woman” (current R&B chart position No. 83; peaked at No. 81)
This Houston native (and former Ornette Coleman sideman) has been making records since the early ’90s, and while this track from his newish album Zone (Pendulum) doesn’t hearken back to the New Jack Swing era, it does give quite the tribute to a hard-working woman in need of some tenderness.
Robin Thicke, “Love After War” (current R&B chart position/peak: No. 25)
The title track from Thicke’s sprawling new album is a laid-back treatise on how making up is the best part of fighting with one’s paramour, with strummed guitars that make it sound like the upbeat, or at least slightly more optimistic, cousin to Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name.” (The rest of the record, by the way, is gorgeous and double-take-inducing, with the instrumental bed shifting from orchestral splendor to the simplest strummed-guitar-and-brushed-drums backing while Thicke twists his falsetto around ruminations on love and the making thereof. Plus there’s a Lil Wayne cameo, and, well, when those two get together, it’s always gold.)
(NB: This list would have counted down seven examples, but technically R. Kelly’s super-throwbacky Love Letter is a 2010 release. At least it’s in the Grammy window, right?)