Review: Anderson East Takes a New Direction

Anderson East/Maybe We Never Die/Elektra
Three out of Five Stars 

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Anderson East, originally known by his given name Mike Anderson, grew up in Athens Alabama and wrote and performed his first song at a tender age for his seventh-grade talent show. Though versed in church music courtesy of his family background, he moved to Nashville after college and quickly found success as an opening act for Holly Williams and later, as a recording artist on his own. With his fourth album, Maybe We Never Die, East’s career, now in its twelfth year, finds him further asserting his strengths and diverging from his origins.

The resulting effort is every bit as engaging as his previous work but sonically distinct at the same time. With award-winning producer Dave Cobb at the helm and frequent colleague Philip Towns manning the soundboard as well, Maybe We Never Die reflects an apparent evolution he’s made since his last album, the somewhat prematurely named Encore in 2018. Then again, East tends to offer a new album every three years, giving him enough time to reflect and reboot.

With Maybe We Never Die he’s done both, regardless of the apparent premise indicated by the philosophical implications the name of the album seems to offer. The opening track and title tune “Maybe We Never Die” sets the tone; mellow and slightly meandering, it finds East taking a soulful approach that lingers through most of the songs that follow. “Madelyn” is pure pop fueled by funk, sweet serendipity coasting along on a smooth groove. “Drugs” boasts a sound filtered through an R&B sound that’s eerily similar in sound to Kool & The Gang or Earth Wind and Fire. So too, “Falling” provides a similar buoyancy and bounce, while “If You Really Love Me” would have found a fine fit with a balladeer like Teddy Pendergrass or Marvin Gaye.

It’s an unexpected turn to be sure, and even when a song titled “I Hate You” turns out to be a twisted take on neediness and dependency, the commercial quotient still remains at the fore. For all the philosophy and conjecture otherwise insinuated, this is a collection of love songs pure and simple. Lust and longing occasionally coincide—I want to take you right here on the hood of my car, East insists on “Hood of My Car”—but for the most part, this is ear candy of a semi-sweet variety. It’s clearly of the radio-ready variety, but whether or not this seemingly unexpected approach resonates with fans remains to be seen.

photo credit: Kat Irlin

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