If there’s only one thing you’ll learn after listening to Animal Feelings, it’s that despite outward appearances, a redheaded white guy with glasses can make music that’s funky and even, dare I say it, downright sexy. Rafter Robert’s newest album brings out the best of R&B, without falling prey to the genre’s current pitfalls: recycled beats, predictable hooks, and heavy-handed Auto Tuning.
Fans of Rafter won’t be surprised by the intelligent songwriting and his preoccupation with relationships. But unlike his previous album, Sweaty Magic, the songs on Animal Feelings are focused, straight ahead numbers sure to gain appreciation from a more mainstream audience as well. Playing most of the instruments on the album, Roberts has created an opus to love, lovemaking, and romance. Using breakbeats, funk guitar, and lyrics that would make most women quiver with excitement, Animal Feelings carries the listener through the most basic instincts of that curious animal, man.
“Fruit,” one of the most raucous tunes on the album, shows Rafter at his best. The chorus’ simple metaphor (“Cuz’ I know that you’d love me/ If you would share your fruit with me”) recalls the lyrics of great blues standards and is catchy and simple. Sung in a falsetto voice, supported by talk-box guitar effects, and featuring an angelic sounding outtro, it’s a radio-ready tune that’s both catchy and sophisticated.
Not every song on the album is so poppy, though. “Love Makes You Happy” is a psychedelic punk number affirming that love does indeed make you happy, but only “when it’s not makin’ you sad.” Between alternating power chords and mellotron-like organs, Rafter gives us spoken word lyrics that have something to do with ripping out his heart and stomping on it. It’s a bit of a departure from the rest of the album, but anybody that’s been in a love-her/hate-her relationship can identify with these mixed feelings all too well. And on this album full of Animal Feelings, it’s only fair to show the grittier side of love anyhow.
If “Love Makes You Happy” shows us the pitfalls of being in love, “Feels Good” is the counter-argument. A slow jam with minimal beats and instrumentation, it recalls some of Prince’s saucier numbers with Roberts singing the chorus in a subdued but semi-orgasmic tone. Listing all of the things that feel good about being with somebody, Rafter hits the nail on the head when admits, “I can’t lie, it’s a physical thing.”
Animal Feelings is, if nothing else, a real and honest portrayal of love. The instruments are real, Rafter writes his own songs, and the vocals are recorded without a lot of studio trickery. While this means there are some human blemishes, it makes the album stronger emotionally than contemporary R&B artists who rely on technology and guest-producers to churn out the sterile singles on the top of the charts. This is what makes Animal Feelings so compelling, and so easy to identify with. We’re all animals, after all, and Rafter isn’t afraid to show it.