Soul music is due for a comeback. While Rich Harrison and Timbaland have done a spectacular job keeping R&B alive with their own hot production work, somehow the warm and deep crackle of classic soul has been something of a rare commodity. Last year, however, a few notable artists rose up to reclaim the genre’s roots, presenting innovative works that injected a thoroughly vintage sound with a modern, unique touch. Erykah Badu sent the first warning shot with her New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), a psychedelic soul odyssey that blended politics with joy and Madlib beats. And near the tail end of 2008, Raphael Saadiq presented The Way I See It, a warm and joyous homage to the Motown sound.
In 2009, however, PPP has emerged as soul’s brightest hope. PPP isn’t a new group, by any means, just a shortened variation of Platinum Pied Pipers, which the Detroit duo had been calling themselves until just recently. Yet it’s been more than three years since the duo of Waajeed and Saadiq released their previous album, Triple P. With a (slightly) new name, and a brand new, unstoppable album aptly titled Abundance, PPP is set to reclaim soul’s good name.
On Abundance, Waajeed and Saadiq present a modern vision of soul that easily fits in alongside the likes of Badu and Raphael Saadiq, while simultaneously recalling J Dilla (who, like Waajeed, tenured in Slum Village) and even Matthew Herbert’s orchestrated work on Scale. And that just barely begins to describe the depth and variety of sounds emitting from Abundance. There are gigantic stadium synthesizers and there are strings. There are ’70s-style gospel and funk sounds, and there are modern Timbaland-style bangers. And thanks to Coultrain, Karma Stewart, Jamila Reagan and Neco Redd, each song has a rich chorus of voices taking these impeccable melodies to a whole new level.
The album kicks off with a hard rocking boot in the ass in “Angel,” with its blazing guitars, psychedelic production and heavy, stomping beats. From there, Waajeed and Saadiq flow straight into the upbeat, Gnarls Barkley-like pop trip of “Smoking Mirrors,” a high energy, hand-clapper of a standout. “On A Cloud” shames all the British birds of late (Duffy, Winehouse, et al.) at their game, all sweet, sassy hooks and big, brassy accompaniment. And the boisterous “Luv Affair” is like Timbaland updating a Purple Rain outtake. And that’s just the first four tracks.
Abundance‘s standouts come at a startling clip, stimulating, even overwhelming the listener’s ears as the mesmerizing sonic treats spill forth. “Pigeon Hole” is a brilliant funk jam, its bubbly bassline popping and flexing beneath vibrant horns and Coultrain’s incredible pipes. Latin rhythms inform the gorgeous “The Ghost of Aveiro,” while “Dirty Secrets” rides a sweaty, raunchy groove and some sleek, throbbing synths. “Countless Excuses” is equal parts science fiction and romantic comedy. And “Goodbye” saves one of the biggest, and most explosive arrangements for a fun and powerful farewell.
Though the past decade has seen some truly outstanding material in the world of R&B, an album like PPP’s Abundance is the sort of thing that comes along…well, hardly ever. It simultaneously bangs and bounces with a widescreen club appeal, but at its heart, it’s a headphone album, revealing its myriad aural surprises bit by bit, and there’s a lot to take in. I think I’m beginning to understand why ?uestlove could listen to these cats for three days straight.
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
The Foreign Exchange – Leave It All Behind
Sa-Ra – The Hollywood Recordings
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.