Van Hunt

Popular

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Somewhere in Blue Note's music dungeon collecting dust (whether physical or virtual), sits Van Hunt's third and still-unreleased studio album, Popular. There are record industry tragedies and then there's the shame of a relentlessly daring and creative album like Popular never being offered up for public consumption. Word from Van Hunt was that Blue Note had neither the money nor the vision to properly market Popular, a collection of songs of varied tones, textures, and moods -- not to mention a genre-mash fronted by an artist who has clearly diverged from his previous two albums. If you want Van Hunt the neo-soul crooner from his eponymous debut, look elsewhere. This music is punk, it's funk -- ethos-wise, it's even a little hip-hop. His guitar solos are angry. The grooves dig in deep with wah-wah guitar riffs and filthy basslines rummaging through the album with destructo force. "Blood from a Heart of Stone" sports a polyrhythmic funk so pungent, it's an instant body mover, zeroing in on your shoulders and hips...that is, until you realize that the song's theme is flooded with resentment. Thematically, love gets punched in the gut and tossed in the alley. Optimism, wonder, and romance are practically nowhere to be found. Instead there are P-funked joints fit for strip club anthems ("Prelude (Dimples on Your Bottom)"), hyper-sexed grooves backing lyrical F-Yous ("Lowest One of My Desire"), and songs like "UR a Monster" that take candor to that scary place. Sonically, "Monster" is a ballad, but ballads don't come this ornery ("I respond with rage whenever I hear your name"). Van Hunt doesn't pander like so many of his male brethren. In fact, the collective tone of the album makes you wonder if this album is Hunt's Here My Dear. Above all else, though, this album is the exhibition of a self-described "creationist." The man is never out of ideas. Just when you think you've got "Feelings" figured out, or just when you think you've predicted where "Ur Personal Army" is going, Van Hunt pulls you across a bridge or smacks you in the face with a coda. This music is fearsome. On the title track, Van Hunt takes turns commenting on the quest for artistic and social popularity -- always a relevant subject, especially in the era of Myspace. His concluding monologue is too apt, given that this album is still being held hostage. "It's all depending on who you ask and how much they know." For those in the know, it's unnacceptable -- but not unthinkable -- that an album like Popular was sentenced to jail. It does not, however, diminish its art. [In 2017, Blue Note released the album on streaming platforms and as a digital download.]

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