Stronger (to be released August 12, 2014)
Fans often don’t want to hear this but it’s true – your favorite artists have to evolve. They need to evolve.
Yeah, I know everyone likes depressed My Life-era Mary J. Blige and greasy, shirtless Confessions-era Usher. But if artists don’t try new things, their music becomes stagnant – just a rehash of greater success.
At worst, they could wind up like the homie DMX, 65 years old and still barking and howling at the moon.
Tank realizes this, and he’s ready for a change. His sixth studio album, Stronger, is mostly a departure from the emotional ballads that were his hallmark. Give him props for stepping out of his comfort zone – I just wish this new direction was a better fit.
Don’t get me wrong, sonically the album stands tall. The single “You’re My Star” expertly uses the upbeat, big band sound that’s all the rage in R&B today. “Dance With Me” sounds like a space-age steppers jam, with Tank leading the Cha-Cha Slide across the Milky Way. Meanwhile, “I Gotta Have It” is straight out of the ’80s – all Tank needs is one of those videos with the cheesy after-effects and a sparkly blazer.
Tank’s not usually known for feel-good music, and it sounds like he’s having a ball, but unfortunately none of the above tracks stick with you after the initial listen. The hyperactive “Nobody Better,” for instance, proves to be a styles clash. Tank’s vocals, while pristine, are too restrained to match the pace of the track. It’s those little details that hurt in the long run.
Tank returns to his comfort zone halfway through the album, relying on his old standby – the slow-burning ballads. “Same Way” and “Hope This Makes You Love Me” are familiar territory, especially on the latter, where Tank airs his dirty laundry: “I’m such a mess/my problems are my ego.” Again, these tracks are solid but we’ve seen Tank travel down this self-depreciating road many times before – with much greater success.
But it’s not all bad news here. The title track, “Stronger,” exhibits Tank’s emotional makeover after dumping the dead weight of his failed relationship. It’s powerful, energetic and emotional – and works so much better than the forced energy of the earlier tracks. The Marvin-Gaye influenced “Missing You” also showcases a different side of Tank that works well. It seems like a more natural fit.
I can’t blame Tank for attempting a new direction with Stronger. In fact, I applaud him for it. Unfortunately, even though the elements for a great album are all present here, it just doesn’t work in the long run. It’s like a good meal that doesn’t stick to your ribs.
Evolution can be an long, arduous process. Those early setbacks eventually will make you, well, stronger.
Best tracks: “Stronger,” “Same Way,” “Missing You”
3 stars out of 5