Lewis II was the follow up to Lewis Taylor's epochal, self-titled debut album. It was initially released in 2000 and this double LP release, its first ever vinyl edition, has been heavily anticipated for nearly a quarter of a century. It's often years before most listeners catch up with an album's breathtaking vision and devastating execution, and so it has proved with Lewis II; it stands up exceptionally well today.
After Island rejected Lewis Taylor's second release (later released as The Lost Album), he returned to the studio to record Lewis II. Less esoteric than Lewis Taylor, Lewis II is a more polished, sophisticated funk and mature uptempo soul than the dark psych-soul of his debut. The production, whilst slicker, is a bit tougher, with more crisp, R&B-flavoured grooves and head-nod beats and more bass pumping up his voice. The vocal intensity present on album number one doesn't abate. Indeed, as Lewis himself noted, "my voice is better on Lewis II and the vocals are high in the mix."
The moody funk of "Party" sounds like a mad blend of Riot-era Sly Stone and Brian Wilson. It rides a stuttering drum machine groove with acapella harmony vocals arriving halfway through to stay for the duration. "My Aching Heart", with its clean, slick, late 90s R&B drums, could surely have been a single. Perhaps Lewis's idiosyncratic melodies would've been too challenging for the charts. Lewis *had hoped* "You Make Me Wanna" would be a single but the dank, organ-drenched groove, coupled with the growling eroticism of Lewis's vocals would've, again, made this beyond the pale for most mainstream music fans. Somewhat incongruous acidic synths and bleeps give way to a laconic summertime groove on breezy highlight "The Way You Done Me", all funky acoustic guitars and stunning, good-time vocals. Sumptuous ballad "Satisfied", a real fan favourite, marries unusual instrumentation with classic soul-ballad structure and closes with a monster guitar solo which almost out-Princes Prince in its gritty melodicism, set against sweeping strings of real majesty. Prog-Funk-Rock!
The dubbed-out, spaced-out "Never Gonna Be My Woman" is the closest the album comes to classic D’Angeloesque neo-soul, with echoes of the esoteric funk featured across Maxwell's contemporaneous Embrya. But what follows is on some next level business. As Lewis's biggest fan, Geoffrey Scull, noted, "the "I'm On The Floor" / "Lewis II" / "Into You" song cycle stacks up against any other consecutive 15 minutes of recorded music, ever!" And who are we to argue with that? These could've been hits for Justin Timberlake during his fascinating Timbaland-collaborating days, such is the sonic and textural pop experimentation at play here. The extraordinary title track sounds like an outtake from Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man and spends its last third as a searingly dark piano-led psychedelic-guitar-crunching soul instrumental. Just astounding. And then. AND THEN! The way it segues into, er, "Into You" is just straight up genius. Goosebumps galore on this one, no words can describe its celestial brilliance. Just kick back and be beguiled by the "Let me come on over again" refrain that ornately adorns its sensational coda. Phew.
The swoonsome, lovelorn ballad "Blue Eyes", apparently written in the spirit of Marvin’s "Vulnerable", is a lush, slow swinger with some gorgeous noir touches. To close, Lewis completely retools Jeff Buckley’s beloved, beautiful "Everybody Here Wants You" and, while talking some liberties, even manages to surpass the original. Yes, really! With soaring, fiery vocals set against icy piano and psychedelic guitars, Lewis recasts Buckley's effort as dramatic, ethereal soul.
When it came to translating the original CD booklet into a 12 inch LP sleeve, thanks to some suggestions from Cally Callomon (head of Island’s art department, who designed all the sleeves for Lewis’s two Island albums and their singles) and his trusting us with his “Lewis Taylor” folder full of various negatives, test prints and whatever else he was able to salvage from the old Island art department, we’ve gotten pretty close to what the original LP sleeve would’ve looked like if it existed. Simon Francis’s vinyl mastering, presents the eleven tracks over a double LP so, as ever, the record sounds outstandingly good. The records have been cut by Cicely Balston at Air Studios and pressed at Record Industry.