Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

Charlie Wilson – Forever Valentine

We’re not just timely in our song pairings here, we’re early!


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Thomas Inskeep: Uncle Charlie singing a Bruno Mars track works better than it should — I mean, “You Dropped A Bomb on Me” was a smash three years before Mars was born! But whatever works, right? And Mars knows what to do for Wilson, giving him a plush R&B track just this side of retro — interestingly, this sounds more contemporary than much of 24K Magic, in a “grown folks R&B” sense. It is, of course, sung immaculately, and I’m thrilled that it looks like this’ll give Wilson his biggest hit in eons, potentially crossing him over-and-out of the Adult R&B ghetto (for this single at least). 
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Alfred Soto: Charlie Wilson, he wants to remind you, has been singing these valentines forever. Luke James, Usher, Miguel — who do you think you are? Plucked guitar, electric pianos, whipped cream and strawberries — whatever you want, baby. 
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Julian Axelrod: I mean, I’m never not gonna spend a few minutes in the greeting card aisle, even if the toothpaste I came here to get is on the other side of the store. And I would never earnestly buy one of these cards for someone I care about, but isn’t it nice every once in a while to browse approximations of every human emotion and have unadulterated sentiment shot directly into your brain?
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Natasha Genet Avery: I started drafting this blurb defensively, trying to shield Uncle Charlie, one of the unsung musical heroes of the 2010s, from any incoming accusations of corniness. On “Forever Valentine,” his voice is silken and beautiful as always, the harmonies are juicy, and that bassline really moves. But Charlie Wilson and Bruno Mars bring out each other’s worst lyrical impulses, or maybe just Mars’ worst impulses. In his best post-Gap Band work, Wilson has sought out collaborators who paired his romantic, ’80s earnestness with a distinctly modern moodiness (see: Tyler, Kanye, or Aminé). But Mars, the king of retro-fetishism, has no balancing or modernizing forces to offer. My respect for Wilson aside, “it ain’t gotta be February/to break out some whipped cream and strawberries” is indefensible.
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Michael Hong: The production aims for that coveted position on your slow jam playlist, but everything is just so over-the-top, so schmaltzy, that it feels more like a poorly scripted romantic comedy. Wilson’s vocal theatrics make it difficult to fall into any of the track’s sparkling groove, and the lyrics are so saccharine and cheesy that you wouldn’t believe this is a man who’s been doing it for almost 30 years.
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Ian Mathers: I can’t be the only one to laugh a little the first time I heard that, while the ladies only need to do an “ooooh-weee,” the guys are saddled with, uh, “shah-ba-duba-dupe-doo-dwee”? I hope I’m the only one who keeps hearing “electrify my lovin'” as “electrify 9/11.” These are the little things you contemplate when assessing this kind of track, where Wilson is still firmly in good voice, the sentiments are so straightforward and almost functional as to become pro forma, and the vaguely throwback-y track doesn’t do anything too interesting.
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Brad Shoup: The self-referential bridge feels like a Martian placeholder; I would’ve dropped it. But this is his furthest throwback yet, so why cramp his style? He’s ensconced Uncle Charlie in velvet lining with a plastic wrapper, giving him a sturdy floor so he can sing off his heels.
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