Eric Benet spent the better part of a decade carving out a niche for his laid-back loverman R&B, notching a minor hit in 1999 with "Spend My Life with You," before he hooked up with actress Halle Berry. The couple married in 2001 and things almost immediately started to unravel for the singer. He started to pursue an acting career in earnest by ...
Eric Benet spent the better part of a decade carving out a niche for his laid-back loverman R&B, notching a minor hit in 1999 with "Spend My Life with You," before he hooked up with actress Halle Berry. The couple married in 2001 and things almost immediately started to unravel for the singer. He started to pursue an acting career in earnest by appearing in Mariah Carey's legendary bomb Glitter, released the very year Berry starred in the gritty Monster's Ball, a career-making role that landed her the Academy Award for Best Actress. That soul-baring performance, combined with her chest-baring performance in Swordfish, made Berry a superstar and a sex symbol, which overshadowed Benet's perfectly respectable career as a quiet storm crooner and C-level actor, resulting in a downward spiral of jealousy manifesting itself in a lot of sleeping around. All this came to light in 2003, when Berry filed for divorce from Benet. Not long afterward, Benet's serial infidelities were revealed, and while he claimed to suffer from sex addiction, he was quickly pegged as the idiot who cheated on Halle Berry by both tabloids and the public, and nothing he did, including a gloriously weepy interview on Primetime Live in the summer of 2004, erased that perception. Hurricane -- his long-gestating third album, delivered in the summer of 2005, delivered well over six years after his second, A Day in the Life -- won't rehabilitate his image, either. Without hearing a note of "Be Myself Again," "Where Does the Love Go," "The Last Time," "In the End," "Cracks of My Broken Heart," or "I Wanna Be Loved," any casual observer will be able to deduce that Hurricane is a quintessential divorce album, where Benet spends the course of the record ruminating on what exactly went wrong in his marriage. There have been plenty of interesting, even brilliant, divorce albums in pop and soul history, and the best of them -- like Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks or Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear -- have lyrical ambiguities and some degree of self-recrimination, a realization that both parties share some guilt in the dissolution of their relationship. While Benet may indeed be "Man Enough to Cry," he's not willing to fess up some guilt on his end anywhere on Hurricane -- the closest he comes is acknowledging "I always loved, I always cared/But there was a part of me that wasn't always there" -- preferring to wonder why his love has vanished and to wish that he weren't alone. Which is all well and good, and perhaps it would even be mildly sympathetic if the audience didn't know one crucial fact: he cheated on Halle Berry. Repeatedly. This makes it a little difficult to buy the argument that he's been wounded by a love gone wrong -- he may not admit it, but anybody listening to Hurricane knows that Benet is the guilty party in his broken marriage. Not only that, but he uses his alleged heartbreak -- as well as his love for his daughter, who has the syrupy "India" dedicated to her -- as fuel for seduction, trying to turn his tales of loneliness into a bid for romance. That's because, no matter what he sings about, Benet simply makes sultry music that's intended to be the soundtrack to a romantic evening. There are plenty of lyrics about breaking up, but Hurricane sounds as if it were designed for hooking up. About half of the album is sleepy, maudlin quiet storm, while the other half is built directly on the template Prince created with "Adore," the warm, elegant closer to his 1987 double-album Sign 'O' the Times. The quiet storm is well performed but dull, yet the Prince-styled numbers are engaging, melodic, and nimble, strong showcases for Benet's mellow skills. (Hurricane does have the best liner-note thank you of the summer of 2005: "David Foster...This album never would have seen the light of day without you. How do I ever repay you? Maybe another Grammy for your collection?") ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi