Charlie, Last Name Wilson
wo men have been the predominant influences on the past 20 years of male R&B; singers: Ronald Isley and Charlie Wilson. Isley and his brothers were famously brought back to hit-making prominence in 1997 by R. Kelly, who decided to pay it back to the man he (re)named Mr. Biggs on his 1996 über-smash “Down Low.” Now Kelly’s done the same for the Gap Band’s Wilson, executive producing Charlie, Last Name Wilson and putting his personal touch (writing/producing) on three of the album’s 12 songs. Wilson was already on his way back courtesy of a couple of great Snoop Dogg singles produced by Pharrell (2003’s “Beautiful” and this year’s “Signs”), but Kelly brings Uncle Charlie all the way back, and does so in fine style.
Wilson doesn’t have all of the fire he spit over 20 years ago on Gap Band smashes such as “Burn Rubber,” “Party Train,” and the inimitable “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” but that’s alright. His supple tenor has lost none of its richness, and the Gap Band wasn’t all about the uptempo funk anyway. Some of their truly greatest hits (“Season’s No Reason to Change,” “Outstanding”) were midtempo, or ballads. Wilson is largely served well by the collection of, duh, midtempo songs and ballads on display here, starting with the first single, the album’s title track.
Once you get beyond the ridiculous conceit of Charlie Wilson not only not being able to find a woman but having to introduce himself to women at the club, “Charlie, Last Name Wilson” is effective as it gets in contempo R&B; balladry these days. It’s a plush, fall-back-onto-my-waterbed song of the kind that Kelly does better than anyone these days, perfectly suited to Wilson’s voice. (Kelly’s skill in writing for specific voices is sorely underrated/unnoticed.) Of his other contributions, “No Words” is a little on the generic side, but opener “Magic” is a glorious do-me-baby of a bodyrockin’ seduction song (albeit a bit on the smarmy side—what’s with the line “Now can you guess what’s in my pants?”—but Wilson gamely, er, pulls it off).
“Floatin’,” produced, co-written by, and featuring the dreaded will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas and the delightful Justin Timberlake (would you get back in the studio, please?) succeeds despite its potentially worrisome pedigree, with will.i.am somehow not annoying (first time for everything), J-Tim crooning, and both ably providing backup for the real attraction, Uncle Charlie—and knowing it. “My Guarantee” is a finger-snappin’ gem which should be the next single, and will definitely have ‘em steppin’ in the more adult nightclubs. Snoop returns some favors, dropping a hot verse on “You Got Nerve,” while Twista gets drafted to do the same on the propulsive “So Hot.”
The album’s real center, though, is track four, a most unexpected cover of Guy’s “Let’s Chill.” This is an ultimate meta moment, as “Let’s Chill” was sung by the greatest (and biggest) of all the Wilson disciples, Aaron Hall, and now it’s coming 360 degrees with Wilson’s version. Obviously, the song’s in his key, and the song’s such an R&B; classic that it’d be next to impossible for Wilson to flub it, and you’d best bet he doesn’t. He can do (and probably does) this kinda song in his sleep; few do it better. Basically, that’s the key to Charlie, Last Name Wilson, an R&B; album that’ll appeal to as broad an age range as anything I can think of in this sphere outside of an R. Kelly album—Kelly and Wilson make some sort of superhero pair, and while they’re not all-conquering, they hit the bulls-eye more often than not.