It’s an odd choice for a pop singer to make maturity their definitive trait, but that’s been Charlie Wilson’s shtick for a while now. He’s a vet, a lifer, he’s Uncle Charlie, man among grown-ass men, and Just Charlie is a record befitting the cool uncle who pals around with Snoop and Kanye. It’s not damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn stuff, it’s not Ronson/Dap Kings-Motown time capsule stuff either. Its approach to R&B is egalitarian, with producer Wirlie Morris freely mixing real horns and strings with synthesizers and drum machines, while Wilson spends as much time T-Paining it as he does Al Greening it on tracks like “Lotto” and “Life of the Party.” Wilson’s clearly staying abreast of the trends, but he’s not beholden to them. He might use a bit of that Auto-Tune, but he’s not going to get carried away. This is music for grown-ups, remember?
And it ends up being a real drag, as Just Charlie‘s resolutely straight-buttoned aesthetic applies as much to the songs’ content as it does to their production. If the lyrics are any indicator, Wilson has made it through his long career in the music industry without acquiring much in the way of things to complain about. His girl is a dime, he feels like he won the lotto, even the would-be tearjerkers like “I Can’t Let Go” are relatively drama-free. Everything about the album is so goddamned reasonable, so midtempo, so backyard-barbecue, that even when Wilson is wailing on a note like a champ, he sounds smooth and measured. And the tracks, so disinterested in gimmickry or novelty, end up surrendering any semblance of an identity to their own oppressively good taste. It’s R&B in the missionary position, a politely seductive soundtrack for obligatory anniversary humping. Just Charlie is a family reunion, and Uncle Charlie brought the potato salad.