Good Thing represents a bold shift for Bridges.
On his 2015 debut Coming Home, Leon Bridges brought about a soul revival, recalling vintage jams by Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and especially in Bridges’ case, Sam Cooke. Ostensibly an homage to these R&B giants, Coming Home felt like it was directly out of the ‘60s, its songs sounding like already familiar classics and his smooth voice taking center stage. The critically lauded Bridges parlayed this ‘60s revivalism into tremendous success, quickly performing for sold out arenas.
But if Coming Home was a nod to that golden era of soul, his follow-up Good Thing brings Bridges closer to the present, developing a retro sound unable to be fixed in a single decade. Striving to stand among his contemporaries as well as his forebears, Bridges takes a more elastic approach to songwriting, incorporating sounds and attitudes from across the last half-century. For every Cooke reference, there is an Usher-like hook. As a result, Good Thing showcases Bridges’ musical dexterity, sounding simultaneously vintage and modern.
The album begins by ushering Bridges’ ‘60s-era sound into the ‘70s with the heavily orchestrated “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand.” With shimmers of strings, harps, a glockenspiel and a sensuous guitar line, all undergirding Bridges’ golden croon, the song nods to “The Makings of You” by Curtis Mayfield, who receives a co-writing credit on the track. The album fully swaggers into the ‘70s with the bell-bottomed fusion boogie of the following track, “Bad Bad News.”
Bridges’ interest in the sounds of the 1970s extends beyond soul. Although Bridges’ buttery voice propels “Beyond,” the song’s references to ‘70s era classic rock remain surprising. With an acoustic guitar part directly out of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and an organ denouement lifted from Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time is Gonna Come,” the song is a perfect example of Bridges’ eye toward experimentation throughout Good Thing.
The vibe shimmies into the ‘90s with “Shy,” which shakes a romantic mid-tempo groove underneath Bridges’ seductive vocal stylings. On the song, Bridges transforms a late night booty call into something incredibly tender: “I just want to teach you/ You could come over/ I know you’re shy/ You can be shy with me.”
Bridges’ musical adventurousness is most evident on “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)” and “You Don’t Know.” The former comes off as Bridges’ first attempt at a club hit, inhabiting a sonic realm between Usher and Bruno Mars, with nods to Maroon 5 sprinkled in. The rhythms and hooks are laced with club adrenaline, but an ever-present triangle chime proves distracting for its shallowness. “You Don’t Know” offers another funky dance beat, this time outlined with the synthetic shimmers of the ‘80s. Although slightly slower, it’s more likely to compel more hip-shaking than “If It Feels Good” because it feels less like a blatant money grab at a club hit.
Bridges’ mining of other musical material includes the skittery jazziness of “Lions,” with its syncopated rhythms, echoing handclaps and tasteful guitar and organ licks, as well as the cigar-tinged jazz club brass of “Georgia to Texas,” with its sections of improvisation highlighted by its percussion, a standup bass and Bridges’ whiskeyed wail. The latter, however, builds dramatically but never quite reaches the satisfying climax of other songs on the album.
Altogether, Good Thing represents a bold shift for Bridges – one that shows his chops aren’t solely fixed in ‘60s-era soul, but one that also risks potential criticism from his audience. However, his sun-soaked voice proves to shine in any era, deftly filling the soul spaces of ‘60s-era nostalgia and the seductive swagger of ‘90s R&B. By incorporating sounds and genres from across the last half-century, Bridges is able to uniquely position himself as simultaneously classic and contemporary.