The Madison R&B artist takes an inward turn on “Original Love Saver.”
Mr. Jackson’s latest release, Original Love Saver, leaves behind much of the exuberance that marked the Madison R&B project’s first two albums, 2014’s The Golden Hour Groove Session and 2016’s Black Gandalf. Producer/singer Ethan Jackson deliberately brings introspection to the fore on this record, and sometimes he’s a bit hard on himself. The first track, “An Original Love Saver,” is basically a skit that finds Jackson in dialogue with a smug awards presenter who accuses him of dispensing “the most weak, corny, fake n____ wisdom I’ve ever heard in my life.”
It’s not entirely clear which side of this conversation the listener is supposed to be identifying with, but it does set the scene for Jackson to explore themes of doubt, arrogance, and complacency. Original Love Saver also flows differently than the previous two records. It’s only about 24 minutes long in total, and four of the 11 tracks are spacey, sample-driven interludes. There’s still plenty of lush synth pads and aching falsetto vocals, but the record doesn’t settle into comfortable patterns. It’s designed for restlessness and reflection.
For all the funky hooks and buttery come-ons of earlier songs like “The Golden Treatment” and “Ms. L,” the man behind Mr. Jackson has often tended to keep to himself and lay low at home. After what he calls a “classic cliche” of a breakup followed by a lot of drinking, Jackson found himself losing focus, in both music and life. “I realized I was giving so much of myself to the drinking culture that is Madison sometimes, that I was kind of losing this artistic filter,” he says.
Many of the lyrics on Original Love Saver are plainly about getting himself back on track: “I’m staying out too late / Need to stay my ass in the house so I can create,” he sings on “Real Message.” Things do take a more positive turn with “The 7th Deadly Move,” a song in which Jackson tries to recover some confidence and remind himself to appreciate every day.
Now that it’s done, Jackson talks about Original Love Saver as something created for a future self. Later in life, he hopes to listen back and, in a way, hold himself accountable, using the music to question whether he’s settled back into the kind of rut the songs describe. “It’s more like a therapeutic time capsule,” he says. “I want Mr. Jackson, in terms of the writing, to be more introspective. I want it to tell a story, from now on.” That will be his focus on two other albums he is planning.
The process of making a more personal, vulnerable record also has Jackson thinking about what he wants listeners to get out of the music. “I don’t want things to be elusive anymore, in terms of how the art can be explained,” he says. “I want to tell people what it is to me, but then put their version of it on the same pedestal.”