Maxwell is living in the moment. The self-described "perfectionist" reveals that he is learning to stop worrying about the future and trying to enjoy more of the present. That attitude is reflected in

Maxwell is living in the moment. The self-described "perfectionist" reveals that he is learning to stop worrying about the future and trying to enjoy more of the present. That attitude is reflected in the songs and title of Maxwell's third studio album, "Now," due Aug. 21 on Columbia Records.

"With my first album [1996's "Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite"], my thoughts about love were idealistic," the artist says. "A lot of what's happened to me since then has taught me that things can't be perfect. With my second album [1998's "Embrya"], which got a mixed reaction, I saw how much people cared, and I learned who my friends really were. I had people who let me see my vision and accepted it. That was meaningful to me and helped make doing ["Now"] a lot easier."

Maxwell admits, "I wish I could go with the flow more. That was a struggle on this record: To let go of my tendency to be a perfectionist."

The romantic, sensual "Now" has plenty of ballads that should help solidify Maxwell's position as one of today's leading R&B crooners. These cuts include "Lifetime," the project's second single, and a heartfelt rendition of "This Woman's Work," a Kate Bush tune that Maxwell recorded live for his 1997 "MTV Unplugged" EP.

The song "Fortunate," which Maxwell contributed to the soundtrack of the movie "Life," was the No. 1 Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop single of 1999 and is included as a hidden bonus track on "Now." Also featured is the midtempo "Get to Know Ya," the set's first single.

Maxwell, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., is paying tribute to his New York roots by launching a world tour Aug. 13 with a seven-show concert series (dubbed NY7) at different venues in the Big Apple. The singer/songwriter/producer is scheduled to perform Aug. 21 on "The Late Show With David Letterman."

The video for "Lifetime" has been added to BET's playlist, and Columbia says that Maxwell will likely do retail in-store appearances in major markets.

"The anticipation for a new Maxwell record is as strong as it's ever been," says Don Ienner, president of Columbia. "Maxwell is one of the most dedicated artists I've ever met. He makes music based on emotions and feelings, not based on hits. He's the type of artist who would give it all up tomorrow if he couldn't be true to his vision."

Maxwell says he will probably tour for at least a year in support of "Now" and that Africa "is on the top of my wish list" for a new place for him to tour.

On the singer's newly relaunched Web site (maxwellnow.com), fans can vote for which songs they want him to perform in each city. He says he expects to do a different set each night on his new tour.

"My biggest fear," Maxwell confesses, "is the kind of success where you can't walk down the street without having a fanatic energy surrounding you. I've had some crazy situations happen to me, but I haven't reached a point where I have to disguise myself when I go out. As much as I love performing, I see myself eventually settling behind the scenes in the music business. I'm happy with who I am, and I'm grateful for the artistic freedom I have."

He adds with a reflective laugh, "I've learned that if something is yours, it's yours; there's no need to run to it or push people out of the way for it. I call it divine timing."