Singer-songwriter Raheem DeVaughn celebrates the title of his sophomore effort, Love Behind the Melody, with an unexpected exuberance. He indeed has an abundance of love propping up his music -- but it’s all for sale. Each of the album’s fifteen songs and two interludes detail that elusive “four-letter word” as a commodity that can be purchased, used, in some cases abused, and replaced. Though the title also suggests something ethereal or nuanced, DeVaughn instead focuses on the tangible and direct. Here, love is a product, and it is going for an average of four minutes per hit. And if he weren’t such a cot-damn good singer, it wouldn’t sell for a second.
DeVaughn markets this sale largely by relying on familiar love tropes. The lead single, "Woman," claims to celebrate womanhood, but by placing it firmly on a familiar pedestal; the unfortunate double entendre of the line "Lady in the streets and a freak when it’s bedroom time" sums up the song’s fiber.
Repeatedly, he sells love as a commodity, love as measurable, love as a "Marathon." But his strategy succeeds most when he drapes his songs in familiar contemporary norms. The album is peppered with daily life, in the form of drug slang ("You're back for more, I'm re'in-up," he croons on "Love Drug") and fast-food (the hook of "Customer" samples BK's training manual for the "You can have it your way" greeting and "You can have me super-sized with some lovin' on the side" reminder). It often veers toward nauseating, but DeVaughn also deserves credit for identifying the R&B system and exploiting its full potential
The move toward such frankness is a noticeable step away from the intangible quality of his debut, 2005's The Love Experience. Where he bathed his first record in neverending reverberations of his own echoing keys and mournful voice, suggesting a resignation for open-endedness, he focuses his second record by adhering to a tight regimen of contemporary hip-hop-based production (courtesy of heavyweights like Kenny Dope and Scott Storch) and staking his voice into each track like a man planting a flag in a newfound territory.
The about-face may be a turn off for the “neo-soul” crowd, but it also represents a confident stride toward individualism. I hope that in the race to remain relevant, DeVaughn won’t sell all of his gifts outright. If he wants to stay in light, he will have to keep some of those goods for himself and share it selectively -- keep ‘em waitin’ for more of that true everlasting love.