German singer Max Mutzke has come up with a pretty ambitious project: On his latest album “Colors”, he covers hip-hop tunes and turns them all into veritable soul stompers. And it works for most of the tracks. Take for example the Grandmaster Flash classic “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”, with its irresistible 60s soul approach and more than one Otis Redding moment. The way Max turns the “rang dang diggedy dang di-dang” around is worth the trip alone. I think what he and the guys from Monopunk (Danny Samar, Tobias Held, Maik Schott) who together arranged most of the tracks, have accomplished here, is a pretty rare thing: even the songs with German lyrics mostly work and I think it’s because they managed to find an excellent production method which brings you back to the glory soul days of the 70s (and 60s too). And it’s also because I think Max is one of the very few German singers with an international stance. German singers tend to sing very depressed, almost tormented as if they can’t open their mouths. Which for me makes it usually unbearable to listen to. Not Max. There’s even a Curtis Mayfield moment on the album opener, the very 70s sounding “Augenbling” from the German group Seeed.
On the crooner ballad “No One Will Do”, the Mary J. Blige song is turned into a wonderful soul cry with great vocal arrangement and sexy vibraphone. Warren G.’s “Regulate” is transformed to an intense, handclapping stomper with very cool brass work and extremely soulful guitar from Bruno Müller. And thus, the version is actually a million times better than the original. Hooray for that! “Men In Black” gets a pretty jazzy arrangement (but do I hear “here comes the men in black” instead of “here come the men in black”?) with some crazy doo-wop elements thrown in. “I Got Five On It” (rap duo Luniz) is stripped down but somehow doesn’t really click. De La Soul‘s “All Good” once again works partly because of the great vocal arrangement and the use of spare keys and brass in tandem on a tense and dramatic version. And Sly Stone‘s “Everyday People” doesn’t have to come with a lot of elementary changes; the tune has Leslie Clio as featured guest and is a welcome change in color here and stays pretty solid throughout.
Apart from the album opener “Augenbling”, three German songs are left. Two of them have lyrics by Max and music written by Monopunk. There is the great ballad “Zu Dir Komm Ich Heim”, a personal paean to his home turf in the Black Forest, brimming with soul and beauty. Max shows his immense versatility and skills on the funky “Zugabe – Show Meines Lebens”. Gina and I always have a good time when we listen to it with the volume turned up. Very catchy. Very unusual for a German song! The final “Horizont”, written by Marius Foerster and Philipp Koch (known as Tom Thaler & Basil) is a nice last chapter here; the intimate ballad features a pretty flugelhorn solo by Menzel Mutzke. I keep coming back to “White Lines” and its compelling hook though.
The Max is on tour: