Dress to Impress (released July 22, 2016)
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking – there is no way Edd can write an unbiased Keith Sweat album review.
If you’re a frequent guest around these parts (and if you’re not, step your game up) I’m sure you’re pretty acquainted with my Keith Sweat Standom. I’ve spent the past eight years here extolling the virtues of King Keef, from his insanely deep discography to the time the wifey actually arranged a meeting between us.
And, let’s not forget, the big homie actually shouted out this very blog earlier this year.
So we’re basically best friends now.
But opinions and hero worship aside, I always speak in facts. Numbers don’t lie, check the scoreboard: Over the course of three decades, Keith has moved more than 15 million albums domestically, racking up more than a half-dozen No. 1 singles along the way.
He has discovered and mentored some of R&B’s most memorable acts, help found an R&B supergroup that achieved commercial and critical acclaim, pioneered the beloved New Jack Swing sound and is the voice behind some of the most memorable songs of the ’80s and ’90s.
Outside of R. Kelly, no other male R&B act can boast that kind of longevity and success.
So no matter how many chuckles you get from blog posts and viral vids that poke fun at Keith’s alleged “non-singing,” just face facts – if you’re an R&B fan, you love at least one Keith Sweat song.
And if you’re a fan of classic Keith, you’re likely going to be a fan of Dress to Impress, Sweat’s 12th solo LP and a true throwback to his classic sound.
The success of first single “Good Love” (yet another No. 1 hit on his extensive resume) really sets the tone for the album – there are no smoke and mirrors, no attempts to pander to mainstream ears, just the classic, breezy, laid-back sound that has been Keith’s hallmark for 30 years.
The allusions to Keith’s glory days don’t end there.
“Just the 2 of Us” effectively turns back the clock as well, with Takiya Mason stepping in the stilettos of Athena Cage and Jacci McGhee to revisit one of Keith’s most effective formulas – the lovelorn duet.
Silk continues their 2016 comeback tour by reuniting with their old mentor on “Tonight,” where they pledge to be “more than a one-night stand, more than a 1-minute man.” They’re still all about putting their women first – a concept that’s all but extinct on today’s airwaves. Keith even adds Gerald Levert’s heavenly vocals to “Let’s Go to Bed” to concoct a soaring collaboration. All we needed was Johnny Gill to complete the LSG set.
Don’t be mistaken, Dress to Impress isn’t a weary reunion tour. The songs here ring with familiarity, but they aren’t worn-out retreads. There is plenty of room for experimentation. “Pulling Out the One” is an energetic steppers cut, with the title track falling into a similar mold – the gentle hand claps just add to the carefree atmosphere.
On the other end of the spectrum, “Say” takes Keith out of his comfort zone. Keith tends to fall back on lush instrumentation; it’s not often he’s backed by little more than piano keys. But here, the track’s sparseness gives him room to authentically emote as he begs his woman for a verbal commitment.
Oh yeah, this is a Keith Sweat album, so his trademark “beggin’” is on full blast – whether with his frequent cohorts Dru Hill on “Missing You Like Crazy” or solo on “Can’t Let You Go” and “Lovers and Friends.”
The album is an uncharacteristically lengthy effort, which means lesser tracks like “Better Love” tend to get lost in the shuffle. But despite its heft, there’s enough diversity in the material – from the bouncy “Give You All of Me” to the bedroom burner “Get It In” – to keep the album from stagnating.
Dress to Impress often feels like the summation of Keith’s entire career, from the danceable cuts and trademark crooning to the ample duets and put-your-woman-first mentality. But the album works because he so effortlessly recaptures the magic that made him one of R&B’s biggest stars. It’s easily his best effort since 2008’s Just Me.
Yeah, Dress to Impress is the same suit Keith’s been wearing for years but it’s tailor-made for him and never goes out of style. He’s a classic man.
And this album gives me yet another reason to sing Keith’s praises endlessly. Y’all just better get used to it.
Best tracks: “Good Love,” “Let’s Go to Bed,” “Say”
4 stars out of 5