- A strong record that falls just short of the Detroit artist's lofty standard.
- There's a famous photo of Omar-S that shows the FXHE boss perched over a pile of records, writing on the blank label with a red sharpie, handgun close at hand. While Alex O. Smith has griped about journalists bringing this photo up, it goes a long way to explain the Detroit artist's appeal, especially in Europe. There's something romantic about the idea of a longtime Ford Motor Company employee coming home, sitting down in his studio, banging out some tracks and heading over to Archer to press up some records. The reality of the situation is that Smith still plays by his own rules, even as an internationally loved artist. Making and selling records is no longer a side hustle, but he still applies a production-line ethic to his music, pumping out four to five EPs a year. The issue with his latest album, the quadruple-LP You Want, is that, more than ever, house music feels like Omar-S's job.
Over the last 15 years or so, Smith has put his name on six full-lengths, almost 60 EPs and more classic tracks than just about any house producer working. There are time-tested models pumped out of the FXHE studio, several of which are revisited on You Want. There's the classic, muscular, melodic house track, like the title cut off his fourth LP, Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself. Here, we get "You Want The Best," which references his last album and a comedy snippet that precedes nearly every track on You Want. Another Omar-S mainstay is the Motown sample jam, the basis for the 2004 classic "Day." On You Want, Smith samples The Temptations for the similarly great "A Toast To Momma Rose."
Smith has also blessed house heads with a number of excellent vocal cuts, from "Set It Out" to "I Wanna Know." He's found a great voice in the Detroit producer John FM, but "Second Life" and the lackluster big-room jam "Hear Me Out" just aren't on the level. On the brighter side, "The Sound Of Neptune" is pitch-perfect '90s house minimalism reminiscent of Kerri Chandler classics like "Climax 1." His collaboration with the pianist Ian Finkelstein, a secret weapon from the Motor City, is expansive. Gorgeous strings and undulating drums complement Finkelstein's pensive comping towards the end of "That's Lil' Boy." It's not quite like any Omar-S track we've heard before.
What we don't hear on You Want is a lot of soul searching. Some of the most memorable Omar-S tracks—like "Just Ask The Lonely"—combined mournful, beautiful melodies with tough-as-fuck drums. Setting aside the excellent "Coming Home Mum," Smith seems to have forgotten about blue chords on this record. Perhaps that's no surprise. He's winning these days. He's on video buying an expensive car and hitting the party store. You Want, then, is full of party tracks, like the modern-day hip-house jam "Ambiance," which sees Smith coming through with a Funkadelic-style bassline.
There are moments when Smith gets lost in the sauce, like "Mandelas Gold," a "bonus beats" track. A famous Omar-S quote comes to mind: "Is that all the record do? Yeah bitch, that's all the record do." But the slapdash programming on this one means even the most inventive DJs would be hard-pressed to do anything with it. Similarly, "1993," the presumed follow up to "1992," is one of the only tracks in Smith's catalogue that could have been made by any number of dance music producers. It's functional to a fault, a description that you could apply to, say, a Ford Fiesta. Solid. Reliable. Only disappointing in light of past glories.
01. You Want The Best
02. A Toast To Momma Rose
03. That's Lil' Boy feat. Ian Finkelstein
04. Second Life feat. John FM
05. The Sound Of Neptune
06. Don't Get In My Way
07. This Love Is 4 Real
09. Mandelas Gold
10. Here Me Out feat. John FM
11. Ambiance feat. John C & L'Renee
12. Coming Home Mum