Since releasing his 2015 debut ‘Coming Home’, Leon Bridges has found himself in an uncomfortable spot. His polished first work was perceived in some parts to be a simple, cynical re-styling of ’60s soul; a time warp harking back in particular to King of the genre, Sam Cooke. Others complained of the record’s lack of political stance, or its relatively inoffensive, impersonal subject matter.
Bridges had to deal with these criticisms when in many other cases, a white artist with a retro slant – Rag’n’Bone Man, Paloma Faith, the long-lost Duffy – get off scot-free. In one instance, his stamp on old-school soul was even said to be divorced of its original context and specifically tailored to white audiences.
That’s not to say ‘Coming Home’ didn’t have its faults – in particular, his lyrics tended to draw on cliches – but the Texas songwriter found himself having to answer questions others wouldn’t. “When I wrote these songs, the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t even prevalent within the media – this is like three or four years ago,” he told Pigeons in Planes in 2016, in-part explaining the record’s non-partisan stance.
On follow-up ‘Good Thing’, Bridges addresses the just and unjust objections to his first LP. Musical progression lines every seam, from the disco strut of ‘If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)’ to the modern sheen of ‘You Don’t Know’. What’s more, he retains the timeless sparkle of ‘Coming Home’ but pushes the clock forward, this time pitching somewhere between 60’s-era Mad Men living rooms and present-day clubs. Opener ‘Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand’ could be handpicked from any previous decade, but the gentle guitar loops of ‘Shy’ owe a debt to Danger Mouse’s productions. He’s no longer directly indebted to the past.
More crucially, he hones his skill as a lyricist capable of weaving the personal with the political. The record’s title is lifted from second track ‘Bad Bad News’, and a line that refers to the singer’s poor background, where he learnt his craft as a dancer in a community centre, washing dishes and waiting tables while his music career stalled. On the track, he sings: “I made a good, good thing out of bad, bad news,” a clear and succinct statement of self-validation.
And while he remains the kind of salt-of-the-earth bloke you’d bring home to your parents, he also finds an edge that might stem from the added couple of extra years under his belt. Penultimate song ’Mrs’ is the highlight, a tale of brutal love that won’t quit: “Sometimes I wonder what we’re holding on for / Then you climb on top of me and I remember.” Whereas before he could rely on simple doting affection, there’s greater depth on his follow-up; more layers to get tangled up in.
While he shouldn’t have to answer all his critics, Bridges does so on ‘Good Thing’ with remarkable aplomb. If he was indeed once a rehash of the past, this time he can’t be tied to one specific time, past or present.
- Release Date: May 4
- Label: Columbia