Motown 2.0

Detroit supergroup PPP’s new album, ‘Abundance,’ celebrates the Motown sound with a snazzy hipster edge.

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R&B albums rarely combine the multiple musical legacies of one given city and catch the zeitgeist of its time as masterfully as PPP’s sophomore disc, Abundance (Ubiquity). As the title suggests, producer Waajeed and multi-instrumentalist Saadiq—the group’s two brainiacs—pack so much historical reference, so much modern perspective, so much deft musicality, so much lyrical ingenuity, and so much vivacity that Abundance is full of artistic riches.

Hailing from Detroit, it comes as no surprise that PPP (formerly Platinum Pied Pipers) bolsters much of Abundance with the epochal sounds of Motown, which celebrates its golden anniversary this year. But Motown, particularly its ’60s halcyon years, has informed a motherlode of recent albums, notably Amy Winehouse’s 2006’s breakout disc, Back to Black (Island), Solange Knowles’ nifty Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams (Music World/Geffen, 2008) and Raphael Saadiq’s fawning The Way I See It. Referencing Motown now seems purely trendy if not passé.

Although syncopated handclaps, snazzy snare-drum intros and soulful doo-wop harmonies rouse songs like “Go Go Go,” “Countless Excuses” and “Rocket Science,” Abundance channels more of Norman Whitfield’s urgent soul psychadelica that he wrote for the Undisputed Truth and Edwin Starr rather than Holland-Dozier-Holland’s sweet innocence that other current Motown-inspired discs bite.

PPP also prevents Abundance from being middling Motown pastiche by drawing upon a fuller spectrum of Detroit’s musical legacy. Songs, like the body-jacking “Smoking Mirrors,” the scalding “Luv Affair” and the forceful “Angel,” reconcile Motor City’s Motown, P-Funk, garage rock and electronica, all at once, and still are palatable for hip-hop heads. More impressive, however, is how PPP executes its ambitions minus the irony-at-gunpoint gauche that mars so much hipster culture.

This is where genuine song craft, animated by strong vocal performances, comes in. On Abundance, PPP recruits four new powerful singers: Karma Stewart, Jamila Reagan, Coultrain and Neco Redd—all destined for greatness. Coultrain, in particular, wins the MVP award for contributing the lion’s share of witty lyrics and hooky melodies.

The vocalists repay in kind. Stewart infuses just the right amount of Saturday night sass and Sunday morning gospel fervor on the punchy lead single “On a Cloud,” while Reagan effectively brings out the lovesick apprehension in “Go Go Go.” Redd plays a convincing call girl on the cabaret-driven “American Pimp,” while Coultrain projects the free-spirited friskiness of a playa on “Pigeonhole.”  

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