Even on a bad day, Charles Bradley has enough raw emotion and vocal prowess to power a small airplane. On the Screaming Eagle of Soul’s latest offering, that same cathartic croon is vaulted to a whole other world of funky fantasy and psychedelic imagery. Where No Time For Dreaming acted as an extension of the cinematic rise of Charles Bradley from more than struggling musician to soul icon, Victim of Love sees Bradley as a new type of protagonist.
Given the oversaturation of the Charles Bradley story, from film to countless articles, it was only inevitable that Bradley would look to break away. Daptone has been a generous vehicle for Bradley to steer his course of music more towards the next progression of funk and soul, moving from its contemporary beginnings a la his Black Velvet days to the wide-eyed musical mixture that marks a changing world as it heads towards free love and costly war. If one were to guess what Bradley’s inevitable third album would sound like given his current trajectory, then we might be met with a disco-tinged slow-burning LP that only he could pull off.
Despite the gimmicks and the somewhat recycled concepts, there’s nothing remotely trite to Victim of Love. Tracks crackle and hiss with Blaxploitation fervor, including the instrumental Dusty Blue, its flamenco guitars weaving through horns and percussion, arpeggios rolling faster than a car chase. Substitute Bradley for Shaft and you’ve got yourself an equally worthy hero.
The album opens with the Menahan Street Band at their finest on Strictly Reserved For You. Bradley’s backing musicians act as worthy support, at times almost rivaling the man himself. The track has that same sly style as an Al Green ballad with the signature yearning that makes Bradley far more than a James Brown imitator. When Bradley tells you he’s got the love, you feel like it’s really going to last. And for all forty minutes of Victim of Love, it does.
The biggest gamble starts in an echo-soaked haze of springy effects and a pleading Bradley. “Can you stop the storm?/Can you stop the rain?/Can you stop… love?” wonders Bradley as the devilishly catchy bass line starts in for Confusion. There’s something so incredibly visceral to the swirling chops of guitars and sparks of brass while Bradley doesn’t so much sing as beg for some clarity like a man possessed. His desperation is as palpable and as real as those dark days that now seem so distant.
Victim of Love‘s biggest success may not be its throwback appeal or even its compositional grandeur, though both are impressive. It is the sheer fact that not only does everyone love an underdog but that one whose found such fairytale success as Bradley is hard to come by. Despite his demons, which mark him like a double-edged sword, there’s a wide-eyed innocence and whole-hearted appreciation that just as starkly tinges all that Bradley sings, says, and does. As Victim of Love closes with the gratitude anthem Through the Storm, it feels as if in those scant minutes you’ve not only reached the finish line alongside him but were his confidant every step of the way.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.