Cody Chesnutt Makes an Adult Record

Posted on May 16, 2013

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Ten years ago, Cody Chesnutt dropped his ambitious double album The Headphone Masterpiece in our collective lap, treating us to 36 lo-fi imaginings of wildly varying quality. Among its finest are its most difficult: the cocky “Look Good In Leather,” the obnoxious “Boylife in America” and biggest hit (once it was recorded by the Roots) “The Seed,” which presents a rather graphic metaphor about birthing Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Pitchfork writer Rob Mitchum, in an otherwise favorable review written at the time of the release, offers this advice to Chesnutt: “… Cody, I have to say it, you are one misogynistic piece of shit. I get the feeling it’s just a big joke to you, but I’d be lax in my liberal guilt if I didn’t say something about it. Grow up.”

Still, Masterpiece was widely celebrated as a wholly original offering to the mostly dull spectrum of turn-of-the-century Soul and Rock ‘n’ Roll, praise Chesnutt deserved. His was crude stuff, to be sure, but the gimmick was compelling. Expectations for a sophomore release were high, perhaps too much so, yet Chesnutt was largely absent in the decade that followed his debut.

And so when I begin to listen to full-length follow up Landing on a Hundred, it is with a tentative excitement. I have been in Cody’s corner from the beginning, and I’m anxious to see what ten years seemingly out of the game have done to the man. From the clarity of the opening guitar riff on lead track “Till I Met Thee” to the bright horns and sweeping strings that introduce its first verse, it is immediately apparent that Hundred intends to be a more conventional sounding soul record than its four-track equipped predecessor. One constant, thankfully, is Chesnutt’s silky smooth voice, which beams through much more clearly on the new record.

A deeper listen suggests that Chesnutt has perhaps taken Mitchum’s advice. The subject matter is more worldly and relatable this time around, and while Cody maintains his trademark swagger, he is content in the realm of confidence (versus the arrogance of his debut).

On standout track “I’ve Been Life,” he takes the headstrong line, “Since my birth I’ve been the greatest / Attraction on the Earth” and applies it to his pride for the nations of the African continent. Over a “Crazy in Love”- style horn arrangement, the line, and the song, kill.

Ultimately though, it’s mostly unsatisfying to hear a conventional follow-up to one of the least conventional pop records of the last decade. The album is sonically pleasing from front to back, a trait I rarely have a problem with, but the beauty of Cody Chesnutt’s previous work comes from its abrasiveness. Tracks like “Love is More Than a Wedding Day” indeed sound like the work of a wedding band. Even when Chesnutt takes a chance, on “Under the Spell of the Handout,” a cabaret-style call and response number, it’s far from thrilling. Landing on a Hundred is pleasant enough — there was just something way more charming about the uneven, flawed Cody Chesnutt of old.

Featured in The Michigan Daily, 11/11/12

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Posted in: New Music