Elevation (released October 25, 2019)
We just looked back at the best music of the past decade and, quite frankly, the last 10 years have been a weird and confusing time for R&B.
I’ve talked TO DEATH about the evolution of R&B in recent years and let’s be real – evolution is a necessary trait of survival. And few music veterans have navigated a decade of sea change like Tank.
From trying to recapture the past glory of his acclaimed 2007 Sex, Love & Pain with mixed results; to the rise and fall of the much-ballyhooed TGT supergroup; and, most notoriously riding the endless trap wave to the biggest commercial success of his career, for better or worse, Tank has mastered reinvention.
In the past 10 years, he’s given R&B fans hope. He’s given them frustration. But at the end, he’s survived. Many of his contemporaries can’t say the same.
But the price of that survival, in my eyes, has come at the cost of what made us first love Tank in the first place – his classic soulful songwriting has taken a backseat to the hot sounds of the moment.
There’s a reason why fans STILL clamor for Sex, Love & Pain-era Tank, an album more than a decade old, but, besides the single, couldn’t name three tracks from Savage, which landed just two years ago. Short-term success doesn’t always endure.
Tank tries to split the difference with Elevation, his ninth studio album that aims to reconcile Tank’s classic sound with his newfound trappin’ ways.
Remember the fusion dance from Dragon Ball Z?
If Tank’s Sex, Love & Pain 1 album did the fusion dance with his Sex, Love & Pain 2 album, Elevation would be their final form.
The first half of Elevation might as well be called Savage da Sequel. Outside of an odd spoken-word intro from Omari Hardwick (which is cool in theory but at nearly four minutes drags on WAY too long) Trap Tank immediately takes the stage, along with some of the worst traits that come along with it. The distorted vocals on the title track, the formulaic rap flow of “Champion,” and the eye-rolling lyrics of “No Cap” – “you walk a mile to get the D, four laps/I’ll roll the dice and bet it all, no crap.”
Actually, a lot of crap, playa.
“Dirty” is a narcoleptic version of Tank’s last big hit “When We” and is utterly dull. However, I do prefer the remix, which is tacked on to the end of the LP. It has two pluses – it brings way more energy to the party and it also swipes pretty heavily from Keith Sweat’s “Twisted.” If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.
And before the boo birds run in my mentions to yell “wHy U aLwAyZ hAtIn On TrAp,” the “Dirty” remix proves that trap isn’t always bad in theory. Need more proof? “WWJD” seems utterly ridiculous on its surface, but when Tank’s sing-songy delivery combines with one of the most interesting beats I’ve heard in months (sounds like someone is playing the old Simon video game in the background – 80s babies know what I mean) it makes for a pretty inventive track.
Trap with a dash of originality I can get with. Repetitive, uninventive trap I cannot.
The second side Elevation touches on the other side of Tank’s Harvey Dent-like persona and feels like an ode to his classic sound. Tank brings out the homie Keith Sweat and the underrated Candice Boyd for “Do You,” and while it’s strong, it kinda feels a bit more like a Keef song than a Tank record. Maybe it’s because Keith works so well with female guests. Major and Luke James show up for “You Mean More” and is the kind of vocal showcase that made Tank a R&B luminary. Luke James ABSOLUTELY steals the show here and I’m furious y’all didn’t make him a star; instead, y’all had him running around on that terrible show Star.
Other collabos are fine but don’t quite reach the heights of those two. “Somebody Else” with Jojo has potential but never hits that next gear. “This” attempts to bring the passion but, like the former, is missing a spark to, ahem, elevate it – Shawn Stockman’s fleeting cameo and Ghost returning AGAIN to do his Def Poetry Jam schtick don’t quite do the trick.
“Our Song,” though, really stands out with its simplistic beauty. In fact, it’s so traditional that it feels out of place in Elevation’s the schizophrenic sonic landscape.
Give Tank credit for trying to please both sides of his fanbase with Elevation. But here’s the problem – like they told you in Sunday School, trying to serve two masters rarely works out. It’s an album that has definite highlights and is perfect if you’re the type who loves to cherry pick a few tracks to create your own playlist. But if you’re judging this album as a total body of work (which is what we do around here), it lacks the cohesion of Tank’s stronger LPs.
Change is good. Evolution is necessary. But Tank is still trying to find that sweet spot between his past and future.
Best tracks: “Do You,” “You Mean More,” “WWJD”
3 stars out of 5