Despite their somewhat unimaginative sequential titling scheme, having listened to electronic music producer Paul Hardcastle’s previous three self-titled albums is not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of his brand-new fourth installment. His detractors may claim that if you’ve heard any one of the laid-back, atmospheric, highly stylistically consistent Hardcastle albums, you’ve heard them all. This latest release, however, represents something of a departure. In in many respects, it’s a grab for a broader audience, some of whom may have believed that Hardcastle and his studio musicians have been in a rut for quite some time.
Nevertheless, the record isn’t terribly radical; even casual fans of the man’s work will instantly know whose tracks these are. A rather large number of small sonic tweaks aside, the chief difference between Hardcastle 4 and Hardcastle 1, 2 and 3 is the singer: Laid on top of the usual down tempo, chilled-out beats and spacey pads this time is not traditional Hardcastle collaborator Helen Rogers, but the producer’s 19-year-old daughter, Maxine. (Bonus points go out to whoever realizes the connection between this and the title of the dance track that placed Paul on the map twenty years ago.)
Though she appears on only four of the album’s selections, her performances make it clear that young Maxine Hardcastle has a pop music career waiting for her should she choose to pursue it. While “Smooth Jazz Is Bumpin,'” her first appearance on the track list, is something of a novelty song, the subsequent “Was It Love” has the feeling of potential Top-40 material. Whether that’s a positive or negative quality will be up to the individual listener, but in this instance, Maxine’s dad steps in and, bringing his well-honed production touches, separates the number from what’s been topping the charts lately.
Vocals aside, the instrumental tunes are solidly up to the standard that Hardcastle has set for himself with the existing Hardcastle and Jazzmaster projects: While they’re slightly different than what can be heard on those albums, they won’t win him many more converts. The professionalism of the younger Hardcastle’s songs are, in the end, the main attraction of Hardcastle 4, though there’s something to be said for the final, unlisted track: an early recording of the singer as a toddler screaming into a microphone included, by Paul, “just for fun.” Good old dad.
[We’re still bitter that Colin Marshall hasn’t invited us over to his spacey pad.]