R&B is the music of romance, but the dark side of that moon is heartbreak. On his new five-song album, Love Affair 1984, Crofton Coleman takes you on a personal journey through both the pain and pleasure of trying to grasp onto a relationship that is fading away. The story is wrapped in rich musical compositions cast over a smooth palette of minimalist 1980’s era R&B, with Coleman’s soft voice wondering what’s gone wrong, and pleading to hold on. Consistent and cohesive, from the retro sound to the lyrics and vocal performance, all of the parts of the album come together to deliver an emotional experience full of palpable desire and sadness, but also hope.
Love Affair 1984 marks the progression of Crofton Coleman’s development as a solo artist. As a member of Church Booty, Coleman spent the last few years singing in front of a large band, earning experience on the road in nightclubs and at music festivals. As a Jazz Performance student at U of I, he’s been learning the finer points of music theory and performance since the fall of 2012. Growing up here in Champaign, Coleman is the son of two professional musicians. In a way, he’s always been preparing for this, even though he didn’t take music seriously until his senior year of high school.
This is Coleman’s second solo album, but his first since leaving Church Booty to focus on his own music. In December 2015 he released his first solo project, Watercolors, a funky, jazzy R&B album backed by an all star cast of musicians with plenty of space for them to cut loose. Regarding the album, Coleman said,
“Well, with the last album, all I really did man was I laid a groundwork for the musicians to play with, and I got the best players I could and let them play, ya know?”
As impressive as the band’s performance is on Watercolors, “laying the groundwork” is a modest description of the complex arrangements he put together for his band to vamp on, not to mention the vocal performance and lyrics, all done by Coleman.
As a breakup album, Coleman avoids hitting just one emotional note on Love Affair 1984, and provides a deeper sense of what he’s going through. On “Cigarettes,” one of the most emotional tracks on the album, Coleman is distraught over the distance that has grown between him and his partner. He recognizes that things aren’t right, but doesn’t want to accept it, holding onto a list of things he can’t forget, including “the smell of sex and cigarettes.” As if shielding himself from the pain, he switches from first person perspective to second person for the most painful lyric, “As the tears trickle down and the smoke fades/Say goodbye to your love as she walks away.” The line is answered with a self-pep-talk in the next line: “One of these days we’ll find a love/the love we dreamed of.”
On the track “When She Goes,” tinges of bitterness darken the mood with the line, “So long, ‘til the next time/What good’s in a goodbye?” before turning back to hope for comfort with the chorus lyrics, “I’ll be all right/ love won’t let me down.”
Essentially conceptual in nature, Love Affair 1984 is an album that rewards deeper listening. Shifting to a more minimal style, Coleman put more focus into the details. The emotion in his voice is echoed by the sound design, the chord changes, the background melodies, and the lyrics. The sensual atmosphere hits you immediately when you hear it, so you may be inclined to play it as a soundtrack to an evening with your own special someone. But, the perfect setting for this album is a place that you never want to be — heartbroken in 1984.
Crofton Coleman’s Love Affair 1984 and his first solo effort Watercolors are both available for purchase through his bandcamp.