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Studio album by
ReleasedJune 30, 1998
GenreNeo soul[1]
ProducerMaxwell, Stuart Matthewman
Maxwell chronology
MTV Unplugged

Embrya is the second studio album by American recording artist Maxwell, released on June 30, 1998, by Columbia Records. As on his 1996 debut album Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, he collaborated with record producer and Sade collaborator Stuart Matthewman. A neo soul album, Embrya features heavy basslines, string arrangements, and an emphasis on groove over melodies. It has themes of love and spirituality.

Embrya sold more than one million copies and garnered Maxwell a new alternative fanbase, but confounded urban consumers and was not well received by most critics.[2] The album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).


With a lesser jazz emphasis than his debut album, Embrya continues the trend towards heavy basslines and string arrangements, and it focuses on themes such as love and spirituality. However, the album features more of an emphasis on groove than melodies.[3] Its production sound contains bassy, electronic and slight syncopated beats.[4] Maxwell has defined the album's title as "an approaching growing transition thought to be contained but destined for broader perception."[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[6]
Chicago Sun-Times2.5/4 stars[7]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[8]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[9]
Los Angeles Times3.5/4 stars[10]
Q3/5 stars[11]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide2/5 stars[13]
USA Today3.5/4 stars[14]

Embrya was originally received unfavorably by most critics.[2] In the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot wrote that the record "functions primarily as background music, sustaining its contemplative tone and percolating groove almost too well".[15] Ann Powers of The New York Times called Maxwell "an expert seducer" and the music "the aural equivalent of lotion rubbed on one's back by someone interesting", but believed the lyrics lacked substance.[16] Greg Tate wrote in Spin that the album "comes off as a tad New Agey, art-rock pretentious, emotionally calculated, and sappy."[3] Dream Hampton, writing in The Village Voice, said that the "listless and unfocused" songwriting does not redeem the "ridiculous, loaded song titles" and found the music "lazy": "The band drones along as if in some somnambulant session that never ends."[17] In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau cited "Luxure: Cococure" as a "choice cut",[18] indicating "a good song on an album that isn't worth your time or money".[19] Stephen Thomas Erlewine deemed Embrya "a bit of a sophomore stumble, albeit one with promising moments", while writing in AllMusic, "[Maxwell] overstuffs his songs with ideas that lead nowhere".[6] In The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Arion Berger found the songs monotonous and called the album "unfocused and pretentious ... full of overwrought, underwritten songs with obscure, fancy titles revolving around a sort of sexual gnosticism."[13]

In a positive review, Connie Johnson from the Los Angeles Times viewed Maxwell's music as unique and the album as an improvement from his debut album, which was "somewhat derivative".[10] Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine complimented its lush musical backdrops and found the songs "pretty wonderful, even though they're impossible to tell apart or to remember after they're done."[12] David Browne, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the album "beautiful R&B background music" and felt that, despite vague and pretentious lyrics, it serves as "the culmination of the retro-soul movement that began taking shape several years ago."[9] Amy Linden of Vibe called it "neo-soul via ambience" and said that "like smoke, Maxwell's love songs drift away, fading ever so seductively into the background, where they stay."[1] Embrya was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, losing to Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998).[20] In 1999, it won the Soul Train Music Award for Best Male Soul/R&B Album.[21]

Commercial performance[edit]

Embrya was released on June 10, 1998.[22] It sold more than one million copies and garnered Maxwell a new alternative fanbase, but confounded urban consumers.[2] On May 26, 1999, the album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).[22]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Maxwell (credited as Musze), excepted where noted..

1."Gestation: Mythos" 3:11
2."Everwanting: To Want You to Want" 7:30
3."I'm You: You Are Me and We Are You (Pt. Me & You)" 6:31
4."Luxury: Cococure" 5:30
5."Drowndeep: Hula"Stuart Matthewman, Musze5:39
6."Matrimony: Maybe You" 4:37
7."Arroz con pollo" 2:55
8."Know These Things: Shouldn't You"Matthewman, Musze5:14
9."Submerge: Til We Become the Sun" 6:24
10."Gravity: Pushing to Pull"Matthewman, Musze6:11
11."Eachhoureachsecondeachminuteeachday: Of My Life" 5:51
12."Embrya" 3:04


  • "Gestation: Mythos" on initial CD pressings is a pregap track.


Credits are adapted from Allmusic.[23]

  • Gloria Agostini – harp
  • Chris Apostle – production coordination
  • Carl Carter – bass
  • Tom Coyne – mastering
  • Clark Gayton – trombone
  • Kerry Griffin – drums
  • Lisa Guastella – production coordination assistant
  • Russell Gunn – trumpet
  • Reggie Hamilton – bass, nylon string guitar
  • Bashiri Johnson – percussion
  • Gene Lake – drums
  • Glen Marchese – engineer, mixing
  • Stuart Matthewman – beats, guitar, mixing, producer, programming, baritone saxophone
  • Maxwell – beats, engineer, horn arrangements, mixing, producer, vocals
  • Greg Moore – guitar
  • Mike Pela – associate producer, mixing
  • Julian Peploe – art direction
  • Susan Poliacik – cello
  • Matthew Raimondi – violin
  • Andrew Richardson – stylist
  • Daniel Sadownick – percussion
  • Veronica Salas – viola
  • Darrell Smith – beats, engineer, producer
  • Mario Sorrenti – phjo
  • Gerald Tarack – violin


Chart (1998) Peak
U.S. Billboard 200 3
U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 2
French Albums Chart 23
Dutch Albums Chart 29
New Zealand Albums Chart 39
Swedish Albums Chart 10
Switzerland Albums Chart 38
UK Albums Chart 11


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[25] Platinum 1,000,000^


  1. ^ a b Linden, Amy. "Review: Embrya". Vibe: 153–154. August 1998.
  2. ^ a b c Seyfu Hinds, Sewlyn (April 2001). "Inner Vision". Vibe. New York: 104–10. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Tate, Greg (August 1998). "Review: Embrya". Spin. New York: 136–7. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  4. ^ Johnson Jr., Billy. "Embrya". Yahoo! Music. Archived from the original on May 6, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  5. ^ Harrington, Richard. Maxwell's `Embrya,' In the Mood for Love. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 2009-03-30.
  6. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. Review: Embrya. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-09-24.
  7. ^ Little, Rebecca; et al. (July 12, 1998). "Spin Control". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2013. (subscription required)
  8. ^ Larkin, Colin (2006). "Maxwell". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 5 (4th ed.). MUZE. p. 582. ISBN 0195313739.
  9. ^ a b Browne, David. Review: Embrya. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2009-09-24.
  10. ^ a b Johnson, Connie. Review: Embrya. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on 2009-09-24. (Star rating found at archived page)
  11. ^ "Review: Embrya". Q. London: 124. February 2002.
  12. ^ a b Sheffield, Rob. "Review: Embrya". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2007-12-25. Retrieved 2009-09-24.
  13. ^ a b Berger et al. 2004, p. 521.
  14. ^ Jones, Steve. "Review: Embrya". USA Today: June 30, 1998. Archived from the original on 2009-09-24. (Transcription of original review at talk page)
  15. ^ Kot, Greg (July 5, 1998). "Maxwell". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  16. ^ Powers, Ann. Review: Embrya. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2009-09-24.
  17. ^ Hampton, Dream. Review: Embrya. The Village Voice. Retrieved on 2009-09-24.
  18. ^ Christgau, Robert (February 23, 1999). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  19. ^ "Key to Icons". Robert Christgau. 2000. Archived from the original on November 24, 2012. Retrieved November 23, 2012.
  20. ^ 14th Annual Soul Train Award Winners Archived 2000-09-17 at the Wayback Machine allyourtv.com/awards/ March 6, 2000
  21. ^ a b "American album certifications – Maxwell – Embrya". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. Archived from the original on July 17, 2013. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  22. ^ "Embrya – Maxwell: Credits". Allmusic. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  23. ^ "Embrya - Maxwell". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  24. ^ "American album certifications – Maxwell – Embrya". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 


External links[edit]