In the case of Stoned Part II, the cover is a good barometer for what's to be found inside. Lewis Taylor has pulled his moody soul, guitar crunch and pop sensibilities in different directions throughout his career and here he takes on territory normally occupied by Justin Timberlake or Kylie Minogue. He succeeds, but the album as a whole falls short because of some quasi-filler alternate versions from Stoned I and the natural limitations of creating material with greater commercial appeal.
Not that the album doesn't hold plenty of surprises, grooves, euphoric moments and everything else you've come to expect from Lewis. Think Hall & Oates, Michael Jackson. There's forays into rock, europop, even adult contemporary. The songs are as good as ever - swirling keyboards in "Out Of My Head Is The Way I Feel" and the dripping solitude of "Won't Fade Away" speak for themselves. And with the right marketing, "Recondider" with its bubblegum disco would be a worldwide hit.
The album isn't titled "I got this dance-pop thing on lock" though, and we are reminded with four songs that appeared on Stoned Part I and a fifth built off a chorus from that album. They are nice to hear and entirely enjoyable on their own, but they do seem unnecessary and are a bit of a drag when new material is scarce as it is. With the exception of "Stoned Part 2," which is just too funky, these tracks should have been relegated to B-Side status.
It's of note that he feels the need to throw in a wild finale. "Keep On Keeping On" is Taylor at his most original, a breath of fresh air after more than a few familiar moments both stylistically and thematically.
Lewis Taylor is a hard artist to pinpoint, and this album doesn't make things any easier. The production is toned down, the pop factor turned up, and there's a few too many sequels. Because of this, Stoned Part II is more of a companion to its sister album and a lesser overall outing for Lewis. However it is still essential for getting into his music and highly recommended if any of this sounds the least bit interesting.
***1/2 (rounded up to four for Amazon rating)