Xavier Naidoo's Studio Albums Ranked by Martin CanineXavier Naidoo (born on October 2nd, 1971) is a German singer-songwriter in the neo-soul genre. He is one of the most influential German music artists of the 21st century.
Naidoo first publically appeared in 1994 when he released an English language album released in the USA by an indie label, which has been sold under the titles “Seeing is Believing” and “Kobra”. As you can probably tell, since you most likely have never heard of this record until now, it didn’t sell well, and soon was out of print. There were attempts of his old label to re-release the album in Germany after his breakthrough, but it resulted in a legal dispute with Naidoo who wanted to keep the record out of the public eye, calling it “soulless”. He won. Up to this day, the album is virtually impossible to hear. Not a single physical copy can be bought, it was never available digitally either and not even on websites like YouTube the music can be found. We nevertheless know the tracklist and front and back cover artwork (it was basically Naidoo covering a bunch of standards and probably doesn’t reflect the artistic ambitions he has nowadays).
It would take 4 years until he released his second album, “Nicht von dieser Welt” (“Not from this world”). As the title said, it was mostly in German, and was widely distributed in German language territory. Created in close collaboration with producer, songwriter and rapper Moses Pelham, the record became his breakthrough and a number one hit in Germany (it was also quite successful in Austria and Switzerland). Initial reviews for the album were rather mixed, many had problems with the overly Christian tone of some of the songs, as religion-positivity is something German critics aren’t much into. Over the years, it became a fan favorite, and was remembered as the album that introduced a superstar. The success of “Nicht von dieser Welt” had an impact on the German music scene in that it established German language neo-soul in the mainstream and gave it characteristics that distincted it from the American Contemporary RnB genre made popular by artists like R. Kelly or Usher, being softer, more meditative and less explicit. Great acts such as Ich+Ich and Glashaus might have not made it without Naidoo, and even some rock bands and pop stars that dared to depart from the then popular formulas (which essentially were either adapting sounds from the USA as close as possible or eurodance) can be in some way traced back to him.
With the dawn of the new millennium, Naidoo’s career took off. The 2002 double album “Zwischenspiel / Alles für den Herrn” (“Interlude / Everything For The Lord”) spawned four top ten hit singles including his first number 1 hit single “Ich kenne nichts (das so schön ist wie du)” (“I know nothing (as beautiful as you)”) and was released to rave reviews. The album was more adventurous and varied than its predecessor, and without Pelham, Naidoo was in full artistic control, which critics liked, so much that they often even overlooked the even stronger religious elements. The follow up, the 2005 record “Telegramm für X” (“Telegram for X”), became a commercial blockbuster that was well liked by critics, too. It includes his signature song “Dieser Weg” (“This path”), one of the most popular German songs of the 2000s (one of the greatest ones, too - in my personal ranking of the greatest songs of the 21st century so far I ranked it in 13th place), as well as his second number one hit, “Danke” (“Thanks”), a 7 minute epic in which he thanks the entire German soccer team for having put on such a good show. I don’t care for the sport, but the passion he puts into the track is amazing.
In this time, Xavier Naidoo was at the peak of his career. Critics loved him, the public loved him, his music was everywhere, his shows sold out and he became one of Germany’s foremost music superstars ever. Legendary artists such as Herbert Grönemeyer (the best selling German music artist ever) and Udo Jürgens (the biggest Austrian music artist next to Falco) called him a hope for modern music. Virtually every German language music artist showed admiration for him. Apart from his solo career, he also was part of a quite successful group called Söhne Mannheims with whom he regularly released albums. But towards the turn of the decade, it all became a bit less happy for him. “Alles kann besser werden” (“Everything can get better”) was a big success in 2009 and had great reviews internationally, but reviews were rather mixed or average in his home country. The triple album was often seen as overly stuffed with songs that also contained many fillers (complete rubbish by the way), and the third disc that contained political song was close to conspiracy theorist territory (not rubbish unfortunately). It didn’t stop his career at first, but it was the first of several incidents that harmed his image.
In the 2010s, he appeared on several reality TV shows, e.g. as a judge on “The Voice of Germany” or as the host of a show called “Sing meinen Song”, a show about famous singers having to cover each other’s songs. During this time, though not in the shows themselves, he made some of his most controversial political comments. He became more outspoken about his beliefs, including his theories about a cult leading the Earth, that we are brainwashed by politicians who themselves are puppets and that Germany is no free country, all peppered with mysticism. While most of his music remained free of said views, he occasionally dropped a few tunes (none of which were hits) that digged into the topic and were widely discussed. On top of that, he changed his tactics of attacking the right wing towards approaching them and peacefully spreading his views - he did so in front of a right winged protest march, which was misinterpreted as him supporting them. At the same time, his albums “Bei meiner Seele” (2013, “By my soul”), “Nicht von dieser Welt 2” (2016, titled like that because he again teamed up with Moses Pelham) and “für dich.” (2017, “for you.”) were all critically received as lackluster records, with Naidoo’s music having become trivial. The albums still were very successful, although the latter one is his first one not to top the German charts (apart from “Cobra” or releases not billed under his name). He also released 2 electronica albums under the moniker Der Xer, both of which sold disastrously and were critically panned, as well as one album as part of the duo Xavas (with rapper Kool Savas), which was well liked and highly successful.
And that’s his career in a nutshell. We’ll see what the future has in store for him, and if he'll gain back the status he already had.
In my personal opinion, Xavier Naidoo is one of the greatest musical geniuses Germany ever had. In his heydays, he continued to try out what is possible in neo-soul, interpolating classical music, hip hop, rock, jazz, and even more into it fluently and masterfully. Despite his few more controversial songs, he is also a very good and very poetic songwriter who deeply loves the German language and treasures beautiful wordings over established and overused phrases. That’s why I decided to rank his studio albums billed as Xavier Naidoo and Der Xer, but excluding the Söhne Mannheims and Xavas albums.
“Zwischenspiel / Alles für den Herrn” is Naidoo’s opus magnum. Divided into a ”worldly” and a “religious” side, we get the full palette of amazing smooth soul numbers and stunningly well crafted songwriting on disc 1, while disc 2 is apocalyptic and dark, as it often focuses on the evils of the world and how they finally will get what comes to them. The fatalism of the second CD may be too extreme for some people, but the experience is highly intense, while the first one will move you to close your eyes and let the sound flow through you.
“Alles kann besser werden” is without a doubt his most ambitious project to date. Over the course of 35 full songs, we get elements of almost every genre in the book blended into soul - an operatic Mozart rendition as well as a big band or a drum and bass beat. It never gets repetitive, as the record is constantly shapeshifting, and is a brilliant show of Naidoo’s passionate love for every style of music, and it feels organic, alive and full of emotion. The thing that made me rank it lower than the equally good "Zwischenspiel / Alles für den Herrn" is the lyrical content of disc 3, the “dark” one, as it is called. On some songs he has intelligent strains of thought going on, but very quickly falls into the crudest of Dan Brown-ish explanations. But that doesn’t change it is one of the greatest German albums out there.
Apart from the fact that it introduced the king of neo-soul in a big way, “Nicht von dieser Welt” is also a magnificent record in its own right. Naidoo and Pelham created some of the most soulful, silkiest tunes that best showcased Naidoo’s ability of softly crooning into the microphone with a soothing voice that sends chills of comfort down your spine. The beats are chilled, even touching upon trip hop territory, and form a great carpet for the singer’s vocals to appear on.
"Telegramm für X” contains Naidoo’s absolute masterpiece, “Dieser Weg”, as well as his hugest, most epic tune with “Danke”. The rest of the songs are poppy soul numbers that feel like “Nicht von dieser Welt” got spiced with a few hip hoppy and funky rhythms, a couple of synth lines here and there and some other more modern influences that make the tunes individual and fresh. This might be the first of his records to check out if you want to get into his music.
“Nicht von dieser Welt 2” may not quite be as extremely impressive as the first volume, but Moses Pelham is without a doubt a great producer who got Naidoo some awesome instrumentals to provide vocals for. One thing you’ll immediately notice: comparing the two entries of the series, you wouldn’t guess there are 18 years in between. Naidoo’s vocals are still as strong and expressive, and Pelham fortunately didn’t try to offer him trap or pop rock or some other more modern style that wouldn’t compliment his voice. A very welcome throwback.
"Bei meiner Seele” is the moment where Xavier Naidoo started to decline from a brilliant neo-soul genius to a mere pop singer. Professionally produced, performed and written, it has all the ingredients to grant you an album length of entertainment - some love, some slight touches of humor, a soul style cover of a well known punk rock song, one conscious song in the form somewhat provocative anti-wife beater anthem. But in the end, it didn’t really feel all that creative, and the music itself comes off as polished and not that memorable.
The songs on “für dich.” are often closer to radio friendly feel good indie pop tunes rather than the inventive masterpieces we are used to hear from him. Apart from the fact that the soul influences have largely disappeared, it is also widely free of material that leaves a lasting impression. Neither musical nor lyrical does the album break new boundaries or has something to say, and what’s probably it’s biggest flaw is that, while it is fun and easily digestible to listen to, nothing really gets stuck in your head after it’s over.
Xavier Naidoo and autotuned dubstep simply don’t work out. The only thing it results in is that we wish he would have separated the two elements. The electronic instrumentals are pretty much what is to be expected of the genre, which is great for clubs, but Naidoo sings on them just like he would on a soul song, just that in between he puts on a couple of effects. In the end, it doesn’t add up to much, and vocals and music might have been better on their own each.
On his second album as Der Xer, Naidoo at least has higher ambitions than on “Mordsmusik”. While the predecessor was essentially the basic dubstep formula, just with soul singing on top, on here he experiments with a few different electro sounds and makes more excessive use of effects. Unfortunately, it’s not better. It still feels as if Naidoo doesn’t understand how this kind of music works and tries hard to crop his soul into electro.
This is a placeholder. Hopefully one day Xavier Naidoo decides to share his beginnings with the world. Even if it is probably closer to a demo album, I'm still interested in where he came from.