Three years following the release of his top 10 iTunes-charting sophomore effort, Find My Way, Sam Mooney returns with his first full-length, Time Bomb. The record marks multiple stylistic departures for Mooney, simultaneously featuring his most commercial and most artistic catalog entries to date.
1. “Coffee (Intro)”
In a gutsy move, Mooney kicks off the album with a slow jazz instrumental. Mooney and the genre are no strangers, and this opener hearkens back to past Mooney tracks such as “Cupid’s Got Me Good” and “Name.” As it turns out, this intro functions as a bit of a bridge between Mooney’s “old style” and his “new,” namely, modern R&B.
“Coffee” is a pure slow, modern R&B track (think Justin Timberlake from 5-10 years ago), replete with a light rap breakdown by artist Wes Writer. Writer actually provides some of the best lyrical spins in the song with this humorous bit:“I was thinking maybe we could kick it You, me, and NFL Sunday Ticket I watch football while you do dishes Heh, heh, girl, you know that I’m just kidding“
The track is an innocent romance tale, with the refrain “I want to fix your coffee every morning” serving as a clever, poetic way of saying “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” For those acquainted with Mooney’s live shows, the R&B vibe shouldn’t come as much of a shock, as Mooney has been covering the genre for years. But for those only familiar with Mooney’s original studio work, there might be an adjustment period. Musically, the track isn’t my cup of tea (or “coffee,” as the case dictates), but it’s well produced and hits all the marks for which Mooney is obviously aiming.
3. “Time Bomb”
More R&B here, but the title track also boasts a pop/rock feel more akin to Mooney’s previous work. The tasteful genre meld and solid lyric work comparing a slowly degenerating relationship to the titular explosive make it one of the best tracks on the record—probably the best.
4. “Can You Feel My Love”
We’re still in R&B territory, but this track also sports a melancholy “John Legend jazz” vibe. There’s nothing wrong with the track, but for me, it’s the least of the bunch.
5. “Can You Feel My Love (Postlude)”
However, that “melancholy Legend-ness” sets up for a piano/violin postlude that is possibly the most beautiful piece of music Mooney has produced to date. The tune is haunting, and the violin, provided by Temperance Babcock, cuts to the soul, perfectly complementing Mooney’s keys. No insult intended to Mooney’s vocals (which are ever stellar), but I’d love to hear an instrumental record from him—or maybe he could make the leap to film score composer.
6. “Unhurt You (Prelude)”
Another instrumental, but this one denotes a distinct shift in the record. It’s more pop/rock and, like its immediate predecessor, sounds like a segment from a cinematic score. But, instead of the dark, spectral flavor of the preceding postlude, this piece is a building, uplifting tune that would play perfectly over “the scene toward the end where the guy runs to the train station to stop the girl from leaving by declaring his undying love” (you know what I’m talking about), and I don’t mean that negatively.
7. “Unhurt You”
As “Unhurt You (Prelude)” gives way to “Unhurt You” proper, the escalating instrumentation arrives at anthemic, pop/rock “epic-ness.” There’s still some R&B influence here, but it’s relegated to the percussion beats and more in line with the genre incorporation of early OneRepublic. The refrain “I cannot unhurt you” is an original phrasing describing an age old emotion—regret over hurting an object of passionate affection—and represents Mooney’s phenomenal talent for making “old hat” concepts fresh and engaging.
8. “Girls Like You”
“Unhurt You” does indeed end up the exit usher for the musical style and thematic morosity (you’re welcome for that word!) that dominated the first half of the record, making way for “Girls Like You,” a feel-good, flirtatious, head-bopping, pop-rocker that sounds the most like Mooney’s previous work. In fact, I’d call it, both melodically and thematically, the “good twin” of “Hard to Miss You” from Find My Way. There’s nothing weighty or particularly unique about the track, but the sheer buoyancy of the tune grabs the listener and won’t let go until the final note. It’s my personal favorite song from the record. (I also really dig the effects on Mooney’s vocals.)
9. “Holy Water”
Then, out of left field, comes “Holy Water,” a straight up gospel song replete with a backing choir and Mooney’s “church-soul” piano (the only instrument on the track). I say it’s “left field,” and it is for the album, at least musically. But taken as a part of Mooney’s entire catalog, it isn’t strange in the least. Like “Find My Way” before it, “Holy Water” stands as an unabashed testimony of Mooney’s personal beliefs and experiences of faith, and even though the track may seem a thematic singularity in a record otherwise about the ups and downs of romantic relationships, the song is a perfect closer, presenting the Ultimate Anchor for all of life’s ebbs and flows. It’s another creative decision of fortitude, and one which, also like “Find My Way,” will no doubt resonate with many of Mooney’s listeners.
Yes, Time Bomb is indeed a departure for Mooney on multiple levels, and I’m not quite sure how fans of his first two efforts are going to react. But the elements which made the first two records great—the masterful musicianship, the clever turns of phrase, the careful amalgamation of art and commercialism—are all still present here, and I’ve no doubt that even the most finicky of fans will find something to like and opt to sick around for the next one. But even if they don’t, Mooney seems to have accomplished exactly what he intended, and realization of artistic intent counts for much.