If it’s true that sophomore slumps happen because of the pressure produced by musicians getting their whole lives to write their first album and just one or two to put together the second, Victim of Love should have been a disaster. I shouldn’t need to explain Charles Bradley’s backstory — everything else written about him does — but let’s just say the road to 2011’s No Time for Dreaming, released when the Florida-born singer was all of 62 years old, was a bumpy one. Fortunately, the album turned out to be a rare instance of things going Bradley’s way, a stunning tribute to the now-immortal soul-stirrers of his younger years (James Brown and Al Green among them) that occasionally sounded as vital as its predecessors did four decades or so ago. And, defying the aforementioned logic, the follow-up falls just a step or two below that debut.
Compared to the airing of grievances that was No Time for Dreaming — standout “Why Is It So Hard” seemingly let out decades of frustration over the course of its four minutes — Victim of Love is nothing but smooth sailing. But that doesn’t mean Bradley’s totally content these days. The major theme here is, of course, love, and Bradley’s walloping sob of a voice is more than capable of extricating all the feelings that come with his subject. There’s adoration in that voice when he sings lines like “My life was cold / You put the flame on it”; he sounds both desperate and lost when he asks, “Where do we go from here?”
As was the case with Dreaming, Bradley enlisted The Menahan Street Band for his accompaniment here. It’s pretty uniformly vintage-soul stuff — barreling horns, wafting backing vocals, single guitar chords on the upbeat — but it never sounds antiquated. More importantly, though, barring the few flashy guitar solos, gleaming organ licks, and, by default, the instrumental “Dusty Blue”, the Brooklyn sextet is always lively without shifting the focus from Bradley. And since Bradley still has plenty to say (or, as the case may be, shriek), Victim’s a major success.
Essential Tracks: “You Put the Flame on It”, “Victim of Love”, and “Where Do We Go from Here”