Best Albums You’ve Never Heard Of: The Futurist by Robert Downey Jr. #TheFuturist

Robert Downey Jr. is primarily  internationally famous for his acting in such films as Chaplin, Air America, Chances Are, Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes and more. What you may not know about RDJ, is that he is also a gifted singer and song writer. He has performed on a handful of soundtracks including Ally Mcbeal, and the Singing Detective, to name a few. To date, he has only released one full album, The Futurist way back in 2004.

On the surface, The Futurist is a traditional pop album with jazz, blues and pop rock influences, but taken as a whole it represents an outlet for Downey to express himself in a more personal way that allows for a certain measure of catharsis. The recording of this album followed the tumultuous events of the years that preceded it, which saw Robert in rehab and jail multiple times on drug charges. RDJ wisely chose music as a way to tackle his feelings head on, and get them out in the open without the awkwardness of petulant questions from the press. Performing piano and lead vocals, as well as writing a majority of the songs, Downey created a tight album with 10 cuts that are sure to please.

Be advised: this album is traditional pop, not unlike the style of music that Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé perform. There are no techno beats, auto-tuning, rapping, and only just a tiny bit of rock n roll on this album. This is a classy album that is great to listen to in a variety of ways – quiet times at home while reading, in the car as you travel, during a relaxing bath, and even at a nice social event or gathering. Joining RDJ for this endeavor is Jon Anderson (from Yes), Vinnie Colaiuta (played with Frank Zappa), Mark Hudson (wrote hit songs for Aarosmith, Cher and others), and a ton of other great session players.

The Futurist is a snap shot of Robert Downey Jr. circa 2004. It gives you insight into where he was mentally and emotionally. His vocal stylings range between classic pop, intense crooning and forceful enthusiasm which matches the quirkiness of the lyrics for his original penned tracks. A song like “Man Like Me” gives a full range of what to expect on this album, give it a listen:

There’s a sort of tortured yet determined soul that is evoked in “Man Like Me”, where he acknowledges the risks of being with him, yet never considers it a mistake. He’s bold in both delivery and the creation of the track. As you listen to the album that boldness is maintained, and at the same time other layers are revealed. On the song “Broken” he humbly asks “God grant me the strength to accept the things I can change,” which clearly outlined his understanding that he needed to continue to improve and put his past behind him. It’s wonderful to hear an icon like RDJ being so sincere and brutally honest about his feelings and his challenges. On the title track “The Futurist”, he looks to the future and aptly predicts the harmonious balance that would be struck in his life going forward. He sings about truth, honesty and moving forward with someone who will help him “sage the world.” There may be a small taste of hubris in his lyrics, but I imagine they were intentional and that he likely doesn’t care whether anybody thinks they are or not. I get the impression that he wanted this album to be successful, yet at the same time I think he wanted it to be true of himself more than anything else. Regardless, he succeeded in creating a compelling soundscape to get lost in while you ponder his inner workings and perhaps your own.

Of the ten tracks, 2 are cover songs. “Smile” is a charming song originally composed by Charlie Chaplin, a character that RDJ is very familiar with. It is an interesting, almost bluesy take on filling oneself with the joy of happiness, and it has a killer jazz bass hook. Also included is a mash up of Yes’ “Your Move” and the Lennon/McCartney romp “Give Peace a Chance” which oddly works on every level. Downey sells it hard with a carefully nuanced performance and a an iconic assist from Jon Anderson (again, originally from Yes). Take a listen to hear the results:

I have not ever felt overly compelled to wish that I could have sat in on many recording sessions. Sure I’d love to watch Brian Wilson, Beck or They Might Be Giants record a track or two, but the list is very short. That being said, I would have been truly fascinated to see “The Futurist” come together. I imagine the sessions were full of fun, happiness, talent and accomplishment – essentially what every creative strives for. I know that Robert Downey Jr. has famously said that he likely would not record another album, but I hope that one day he changes his mind. We’ve seen what he can do musically while dealing with his past, now I’d love to hear what a blissfully blessed RDJ would sing about. What kind of whimsy and playful soul would he bring to a new album? I can’t help thinking it would be the stuff of legends. Maybe one day soon he’ll prove me right. Maybe. Until then, pick up a copy of “the Futurist” on iTunes, Amazon, or Google Play and enjoy life with some great tunes!

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