John Legend made the leap from sought-after session musician and ubiquitous purveyor of silky-smooth hooks to multi-platinum superstar with a big assist from the ever-humble Kanye West, but there's precious little hip-hop bombast on Once Again, Legend's elegantly retro follow-up to 2004's Grammy-winning Get Lifted. On Once Again, the effortlessly suave Legend achieves a level of upscale smoothness previously considered impossible. "Save Room," the first track and the first single, gets things off to an appropriately sophisticated start with its tastefully Burt Bacharach-like lushness, while "Slow Dance," one of several tracks fruitfully re-teaming Legend with "Ordinary People" co-writer Will.I.Am, smartly cops moves from the Motown and old-school-soul playbooks.
On the standout tracks "P.D.A. (We Just Don't Care)" and "Maxine," Legend dresses up his sexual quirks in tuxedos and tails. The giddily exhibitionist "P.D.A." begins as an innocent celebration of kissing and hugging in public, then ratchets up the stakes until it's an unapologetic ode to having sex in strange places in front of strange people. "Maxine" goes even further. Over lilting, bossa nova-flavored production by Sa-Ra Creative Partner, Legend comes off as half-stalker, half foot fetishist as he obsesses over an incandescent beauty who's a dead ringer for a lost love, from her head to the white stiletto heels that Legend dreamily hypothesizes she must have purchased in Peru. The song could easily come off as creepy if it weren't so damned seductive.
"Maxine" kicks off a segment of the album devoted to romantic obsession, and while Once Again occasionally slips from understated to sleepy, there isn't a bum track on the album. Legend's sexy second studio album is grown folks' music that proves you don't have to raise your voice to make a big impact.