Maxwell’s third and, for many, his best album.
Daryl Easlea 2012
Now was Maxwell’s final album before an eight-year break from recording. It showed how in-step and yet completely out-of-kilter an artist he was. This is grown-up, frequently gorgeous music that epitomises the very best in neo-soul.
Now finds Maxwell on track after the more conceptual (read: rambling) groove-based Embrya album, the follow-up to his groundbreaking debut, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite. Here the emphasis is on the song. Working with Hod David and Stuart Matthewman from Sade, Now is full of well-written material.
Lead single Get to Know Ya is beautiful, re-stating Maxwell's claim to be a man who is about love rather than anything more base. He sings, “Others was tryin’ to get in your trousers / I was just tryin’ to get into you,” over a muted funk with beautiful horn fills. W/As My Girl is like the best of Todd Rundgren and The Isley Brothers all in one song, while For Lovers Only has a beautifully languid groove, and a rare use of banjo in neo-soul. The waltz tempo of Silently adds a plaintive mystery to his vocal.
At its very best, Now is a perfect example of beautiful mood-setting music. While only occasionally rising above mid-tempo (the fuzz-heavy guitar groove of Temporary Nite, for example), it often elevates ambience into an art form. Closer Now / At the Party is where it is less successful: the loping, repetitive groove meanders rather than mesmerises.
The best-written song of all here doesn’t come from Maxwell’s pen at all. It is his astonishing cover of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work, which he had already featured in his MTV Unplugged set. As the song was written from a man’s point of view in the first place, Maxwell imbues it with tremendous gravity and soulfulness that makes it a remarkable standout.
Now shows a serious artist maturing, shaking off the shackles of a rapturously received debut and returning after a difficult follow-up. Although it was deemed safe in certain critical circles, it stands up strongly today.