I have long had a particular impression of 1990s R&B, an impression formed in high school when subjected to Boyz II Men and whatever else. Even with all the listening to ’90s R&B I’ve been doing lately, encountering all sorts of things I never thought I’d listen to, I still haven’t been able to muster up more than a “Janet Jackson is better than I thought.” Most R&B I’ve encountered from the mid 1970s onward lacks much of what I like in music, and has too much of what I don’t like, and so I’ve found myself giving the odd commercial juggernaut a few listens and saying “Well, okay, it’s well made I guess” and ignoring the rest of it.
The only thing I knew about P.M. Dawn was that one of their songs was covered by the Backstreet Boys, a cover which was undoubtedly the highlight of a particular Backstreet Boys album, not because their version was good but because the P.M. Dawn song was clearly so much better than the material written for them.
This is a long way of saying I didn’t know what I was in for. The first thing that impresses me about this record is that it is so damn idiosyncratic (no song more than “Untitled,” which is basically prog R&B). This record has personality in ways I never imagined an R&B record could have personality like this. (That comment does not extend to Neo Soul, by the way.) It’s like Art R&B or something. (Yes, that last song really is really closer to Prog R&B.)
I am so floored by the weird detours, the idiosyncratic lyrics, the musical ideas I don’t think I’ve ever heard in a context such as this, that it mostly overcomes my dislike of how unbelievably slick this record is, because it’s so unbelievably slick. (It’s a 1990s R&B record, how could it be otherwise?)
When it comes down to it, I will never love this record or this band; they are not my kind of thing and I find the slick R&B aesthetic to be pretty awful. But if I have to listen to it, I’d rather it be like this – weird and confusing and pretentious.