Eric Benet is back, but so is his baggage

The crooner's new album goes over his failed marriage with Halle Berry


August 11, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Given all that has happened in his very public private life over the past five years or so, it's easy to forget that Eric Benet was once a promising recording artist. The R&B singer's last album, 1999's A Day in the Life, went gold, spurred by the success of two singles: a funky remake of Toto's "Georgy Porgy," featuring Faith Evans, and the charming ballad "Spend My Life With You," a duet with Tamia.

Then in 2001, Benet married actress Halle Berry, one of the most celebrated beauties in Hollywood. Not long after the two exchanged vows, Berry's star exploded. She bared her breasts in Swordfish and became an overnight sex symbol. She bared her soul in Monster's Ball and became the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress. Benet, in the meantime, fell into the shadows. He didn't release any hits and was basically relegated to escorting his stunning, world-famous wife to movie openings and other red-carpet events.

But all wasn't well at home. Two years into the marriage, the couple separated. Soon afterward, it was revealed that Benet, the handsome vocalist with the satiny, seductive croon, had cheated on his wife. Not once but repeatedly. The messy story was all over the tabloids. Berry filed for divorce. Benet said he suffered from sex addiction. He even appeared on Primetime Live last summer and wept about it.

Now that his stormy marriage has ended, the singer has returned to music. On Hurricane, Benet's first album in six years, he revisits the turbulent parts of his time with Berry.

"The album is very naked," says Benet, who's calling from Los Angeles. The artist will play the 14th Annual Stone Soul Picnic in Druid Hill Park on Saturday. "I've had some fears about how my fans will react to my music. Besides that, it's been six damn years. Will [fans] be checking for Eric Benet?"

Not like they were six years ago. Released in June, Hurricane made its debut at No. 133 on Billboard's pop album charts and No. 27 on the hip-hop / R&B listings. The album appeared on the charts for only a week. Woefully under-promoted by Warner Bros. Records, Benet's label, the CD received mostly mixed reviews.

The singer says, "It took so long for [the album] to come out because I had in my mind what kind of album I wanted to make. [But] Warner Bros. had another idea. I wanted to stray away from the obvious R&B radio direction."

Hurricane is lush in spots, the overall sound more in the adult contemporary vein. More Christopher Cross, less R. Kelly. To achieve this sometimes inviting mix of sweeping strings, layered vocals and nimble acoustic guitars, Benet turned to veteran pop producer David Foster, the man behind surging ballads by Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Chicago. On his previous albums, 1996's True to Myself and 1999's A Day in the Life, Benet adhered to a bottom-heavy urban sound occasionally inflected with jazzy overtones. But he has shown an affinity for soft rocklike tunes before. On Day in the Life, he covered the aforementioned Toto classic and Kansas' "Dust in the Wind."

"I think musically this album represents me more purely than my other two albums," Benet says. "For me to make another record leaning toward straight R&B wouldn't have been an accurate representation. I feel like I've reached a maturity creatively where I'm not thinking, 'Is this marketable?'"

Lyrically on Hurricane, Benet mostly weeps about what went wrong in his marriage. "Cracks of My Broken Heart," "I Wanna Be Loved," "Man Enough to Cry" -- with such titles, he tries to paint himself as the wounded one. It doesn't work. Besides, those who would be interested in the record already know the back story: Benet is the one who cheated over and over again.

About his failed marriage, he says, "The most impactful lesson I learned is to be extremely honest with what I'm feeling, how important it is to express what I'm going through. ... I've learned not to take my emotions and find a metaphorical rug to sweep them under."

Unfortunately, Hurricane won't do much to rehabilitate the singer's image. But the album, though a bit maudlin in spots, offers some highlights. Among them: the gently swaying "Pretty Baby" and the rocking "Be Myself Again."

"This album is, in a sense, closure to a chapter in my life," Benet says. "I've purged myself of some of the things I've been going through in the last five years. That's more important to me than the fear of not being accepted by old fans."

See Eric Benet at the Stone Soul Picnic at Druid Hill Park on Saturday. The event is from noon to 8 p.m. and is free to the public. Benet will also perform at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. in Alexandria, Va., on Monday night at 7:30. Tickets are $25 and are available at Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting

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