For fans of classic soul music, the release of Leon Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home, likely felt like a breath of fresh air. Here was a 25-year-old in vintage clothing singing sweet, soulful songs as if it were 1960. In a musical environment with frequent reinterpretations and reuses of soul music—from hip-hop samples to pop singers such as Justin Timberlake and Ed Sheeran—Bridges’ soul music sounded preserved and intact.
While Coming Home showcased Bridges’ impressive and wholly capable tribute to another era, his own voice was mostly eclipsed by his inspirations. Bridges’ second album, Good Thing, is a comprehensive sequel: a more natural channeling of the same inspirations while adding new ones and consequently finding a voice all his own.
The most obvious change is the emphasis on movement in its songwriting. Coming Home gave listeners plenty to sway to; Good Thing gives listeners something to dance to. The quick-moving jazz of “Bad Bad News,” or the disco influences in “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” and “You Don’t Know,” make the music of Good Thing sound like a celebration of being in a body.
Bridges is not uncomfortable exploring what comes with being in a body. Proving that the adult-contemporary radio category is not named just for being uninteresting to kids, Bridges sings about things that actually matter to adults, like sex. In singing about sex, Bridges’ vocal performances are just as important as the words; with nods to Prince, Bridges sings with and about a sensuality that could make Solomon blush.
It takes two to tango, as they say, and Bridges’ first-person songwriting is inevitably one-sided, which makes expressions and projections of desire a little more dangerous. Pop music’s flagship soft-dudes (singers who wield sensitivity as a brand rather than a normal, healthy extension of personhood) often drift into postures that suggest the expression of their desires as currency for affection, the de facto message being: “I feel so strongly that I deserve your love.”
Bridges’ songwriting mostly avoids this; album stand-outs “Shy” and “Beyond” translate internal desire into outward hopes with a confidence that doesn’t become proprietary. These songs focus on the feeling rather than the transaction.
It is often said that the best things in life are not material, but instead come from the intimacy and togetherness found in love that is familial, romantic or otherwise. Good Thing expresses an individual’s desires for shared experiences, conjuring up the yearning, hope, swagger, doubt, heartbreak, and humility that are often part of that quest. (Columbia)