This album, musically, is the most soulful and purest form of R&B and soul music that came out in the '90s. It has everything from smooth mid-tempo jams to hot, club-ready dance numbers and then on to the most lavish and tender ballads I've ever heard in my entire life. And it's all from the heart of a man. To this day, I have yet to hear an album that pleases my ears, toys with my emotions, brings a smile to face and a tear to my eye the way 'House of Music' did, and still does. What Raphael Saadiq, D'wayne Wiggins and Timothy Christian Riley put together back in late '96 was something heartfelt that means more to me than words can really explain. But I will try my best to. The recurring theme of this album is what makes a man a man and a woman a woman, explored with both frankness and slyness. Since that's what we all are trying to figure out, there is not one person who would not be able to relate to some song on this album. True to the wonderful black and white cover photo of the trio sitting around in what appears to be a studio jam session with several other musicians, this album has the looseness and feel of just that: a jam session. As if they all sat and down and recorded these songs live in the studio, no mixing, no overdubbing, just pure, uninhibited music.
Now, let's get to the music itself. The album opens with 'Thinking of You', a classic song that really sounds like something Al Green would have recorded. Far from a cheap imitation though, this is still all their own work. With beautiful guitar work and a backbeat that sounds like its in the borroughs of ghetto soul, this is a perfect way to start off this album. From there, it moves into the lightweight and sweet-sounding 'Top Notch' which is incidently my least favorite number, but still far from bad. Now on to 'Let's Get Down', the album's first single featuring Compton rapper DJ Quik. This is just an effortlessly funky dance song about the fast lane and clubbin' life. The beat sways and slides as the two perfectly compliment each other, jumping between Quik's witty and wonderfully funny raps to Saadiq's excellent vocals. After that uptempo club song comes the honey-dripped 'Til Last Summer', an achingly beautiful ballad with Saadiq turning in one of his most impressive falsetto vocal performances. His passionate moaning 'ohhhh-oh-oh-ohhh' on the final vamp of the song is breathtaking. Up next is 'Lovin' You', a more uptempo song with a nice horn arrangements and vocals, looking at the more positive side of finding love. Anyone who has at one time known a strong love in their life will feel this song on every level, the responsibility, the addiction, the trust, the kinda love thats almost a spiritual thang. Even at nearly six minutes long, I'm always kind of sad when the song ends. Those last two numbers 'Til Last Summer' and 'Lovin' You', odes to unbrideled and uncompromising love, are the set up for the bar-none BEST song on the album. 'Still a Man' is an achingly beautiful ballad and my personal favorite song of ALL TIME. It gradually builds from a languid slow-pace to heart-breaking dramatic pleas. It's a story I know all too well, and Saadiq imprints a personal passion in it like I've never in my life heard. Stretching over seven minutes long, it never once wavers from the initial feeling. It only gets stronger. Saadiq's cries and pleas for understanding and love are just breathtaking. Even after the song seems to have hit its emotional peak and then dies down, the vibe is just too strong to leave at that, so the group keeps it going as Saadiq sings and sings and sings over the instrumental until there is nothing left to say. This album is worth the price for that song ALONE. The bouncy and upbeat sounds of 'Don't Fall in Love' come in next, although musically pleasant, the lyrics are a warning to those who fall in love easily. A quiet piano solo and a monologue from Saadiq murmuring that "Love, true love makes no sense at all.... it just is, what it is" leads into 'Holy Smokes & Gee Whiz', another brilliant and touching song. The title may sound a little corny, but you've really just got to ease into his vibe here, and you will definitely feel it. Just as you had closed your eyes and eased yourself into a nice little nook with that last song, suddenly the uptempo partyin' mood of 'Annie May' kicks in and jolts you back up. This song is not nearly as meaningful as the rest, but it is incredibly infectious, all about a sexy, fast-living girl, something of a gold-digger, who aims to make it in life, but can't make up her mind about anything. Next up is 'Let Me Know', another incredibly tender ballad of filled with longing and tears. That beautiful number is followed by 'Tossin' and Turnin', a hypnotic and sensual song for the bedroom that has the aura of real love, not just lust. Next up is 'Wild Child', my second least favorite song, but still a confident and carefree jam and a nice precursor to the final song 'Party Don't Cry', which is actually a very deep and uplifting number. In my darkest hours, this song has really inspired me to push forward, and, maybe I'm laying it on a little thick, but it has helped me to almost conquer my fear of death. It is the perfect finale to an album that covered every base, nook and cranny of love and life, men and women, laughter and tears, all the day-to-day things that us people who live for love are dealing with. 'House of Music' closes with a final interlude of a solo piano reprise of 'Lovin' You', a sunny, spirited instrumental, leaving the listener with a cool, swaying, and reflective ending to a perfect album.
Through my ups and downs and pitfalls in my relationship, this has been the music that has provided me with an ease to my tension and pain. It's kind of odd, but none of the other three albums that Tony Toni Tone recorded even come close to the musical and artistic greatness of this, which was their last album. They were one of the groups that evolved into something much better with time. You always knew they had greatness deep within them, and it was just screaming to get out during those first few albums. Then, finally, with 'House of Music', it was just all unleashed. And, oh, whatta experience it was. Hmmm, well, I think that's all I have to say. Get in touch with your emotions an' pick up this album.