In 2015, Leon Bridges blew in on a breeze of nostalgia—his sweet, sun-soaked soul music winning him fast fame and plenty of comparisons to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. So after two Grammy nominations and a Gold record, Bridges faced a common fork in the road for where to go next. Do you stick with the ultra-stylized formula? Or explore what else you can do?
For his sophomore effort, Good Thing, Bridges has opted for the latter, saying in a recent interview, “I want people to know I’m more than just Sixties R&B. This is everything from Nineties and Eighties R&B to country twang moments.” Though I’m unsure where the “country twang” presents itself, Good Thing does provide a significant shift in the decade where Bridges is grounding his music—a bold move that his legions of fans will either embrace, or lament.
Things start out on a ‘70s note with “Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand,” as Bridges’ appealing falsetto mixes with Isaac Hayes-style dramatic strings and glockenspiel. Coupled with “Bad Bad News,” a housey, danceable cut about blocking out the haters (“I hit ‘em with style and grace/And watch their ankles break”), it’s a promising opening salvo, and promising evidence that some fans may forgive him for the new direction.
The mood swings to the ‘90s with “Shy,” a romantic, mid-tempo groove that sparkles with some of Bridges’ old sweetness. “If It Feels Good, Then It Must Be” comes off at Bridges’ attempt at a club hit, but the distracting triangle ding and lack of energy makes “You Don’t Know” the track most likely to get you to shake your ass. With ‘80s dance-funk vibes and a bass-line that won’t quit, Bridges—a trained choreographer—will hopefully perform this one with some fresssshh moves.
Exploratory steps into jazz are also made, albeit with mixed results. “Lions” mixes a skittery rhythm with space-filled guitar comps and echoey hand-claps. It creates a strange, interior feel—and presents Bridges’ lyrics as borderline spoken word. “Georgia to Texas” mixes the smoke-filled tones of stand-up bass and moody sax as Bridges talks about his upbringing. And while it builds dramatically halfway through, it doesn’t wind up going very far.
One of the best cuts, “Mrs,” is the sexy-time song of the album. A sensual track about the two F’s at the center of Bridges’ relationship (fighting and fucking), and how the two seem to only work hand in hand. “I remember how it felt the first few times/Skin to skin/Before you knew how to get under mine” he croons over warm, soulful guitar and a stay-in-bed beat. It’s got “sexual healing” written all over it, and is one of the best cases for this whole new side of Bridges.
A second album seems a bit early to abandon the style that made you popular, especially a style that’s been reflected in everything from Bridges’ vintage style of dress to the Gene Kelly-esque cover of his first album. And while Bridges is certainly far from falling on his face, there’s nothing that really raises him above the droves of artists currently mining the sounds of ‘80s and ‘90s R&B either.