Something about Ari Gold’s second album, Space Under Sun, rubbed me the wrong way. His self-titled debut felt raw, the proverbial diamond in the rough, but the slick follow-up didn’t quite live up to the promise of that debut.
Before the release of Gold’s third album, Transport Systems, I went back to Space Under Sun to figure out why it didn’t appeal to me. I found the answer in two consecutive tracks at the midpoint of the album — "Bashert" and "He’s On My Team".
The former is a sickly sweet ballad too plainspoken to be very poetic, and the latter is stagey novelty song too limited by its antics to even be funny. The rest of the album, however, actually sounded all right.
Gimmicks backfire if they’re not handled carefully, and Gold’s weakness are tracks that mishandles the gimmick. Transport Systems nearly skirts that peril — "nearly" because a cover of Human League’s "Human" embellishes the original with additional (read: unnecessary) material.
Dude — "Human" was a great song to begin with. It needs no addition. Would you paint a beret on the Mona Lisa? Gold salvages the alleged cover by singing the song’s chorus as is, but if he stuck to the original, he would have had a great encore.
Thankfully, it’s the only misstep on a focused, ambitious album, perhaps Gold’s best to date.
The out singer doesn’t play gender games, and his songs deal directly with gay subject matter. "Mr. Mistress" calls out closeted married men for their double standard, while "Feeding the Fire" challenges guys into P&P. "Ride to Heaven" makes the obvious analogies between a car’s standard transmission and the usual male anatomy.
In these cases, Gold manages to avoid the pitfall of novelty by speaking from such a non-mainstream perspective. He doesn’t trivialize these situations, and even "Ride to Heaven" is tasteful in its own coy way.
"Transport Me" summarizes Gold’s optimism — in another time and place, the ills of the world may be alleviated after all.
Most of the album’s songs talk about the usual themes of R&B music — love, relationships and having a good time. "Where the Music Takes You" is every bit the radio single it’s intended to be, while "Play It Back" and "Good Relationship" meditate on how relationships have been and how they ought to be.
Transport Systems is a far cry from the lean self-titled debut. Gold packs his songs to the hilt, at times crossing the line to overproduction. That’s standard fare for the genre in which he works, and in some instances — "Where the Music Takes You", particularly — that excess feels wholly appropriate.
And for the most part, he’s able to keep his shirt on for the cover art. He doesn’t actually button it up, though.
Transport Systems finds Gold really getting comfortable with his music. His refreshingly frank perspective makes up for any isolated missteps.