Independent Women, Pt. 3
A host of things went wrong for Allure when they slipped onto the R&B scene in 1997. The four fresh faces out of New York, trained in music at the famed LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts, were under the wing of high-profile diva Mariah Carey. Allure was the first quartet signed to her short-lived vanity label, Crave Records. The girls featured cameos with Raekwon, 112, Nas and L.L. Cool J on their eponymous debut. They were cute, they could sing, and they had several established artists on their album. It seemed like the perfect sell.
Allure showed promise, even if their material was slightly erratic. These four divas, after all, were released a year before that other girl group, Destiny’s Child, was gaining momentum as a glittery gang of dramatic and talented vocalists. Both girl groups offered the same basic concept, applied differently. Four black women, looking like younger, sexier versions of En Vogue. Decently produced, catchy songs. Spirited ballads, short skirts and lots of lip gloss. After Allure remade Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “All Cried Out” featuring 112 (their more successful male equivalent), it seemed that they were going to give the ever-changing line-up of Destiny’s Child a run for their money. The single eventually went platinum.
Instead, Allure disappeared and Destiny’s Child continued to scale up the charts with bootylicious grooves like “No, No, No”, “Bills, Bills, Bills” and, naturally, “Independent Women”. Suddenly, it seemed that audiences only needed one girl group to satisfy their need for dainty pop. They were a new generation’s answer to the Supremes and even posed on the cover of VIBE magazine dressed as the classic girl-group. It seemed that there would never be a contemporary girl group that could surpass them, or even come close.
After a four-year hiatus, Allure has returned with Sunny Days. I realized, upon listening, that it had been years since I’ve listened to a girl group other than Destiny’s Child. Though Allure is subtler, delicate and not nearly as confident as the trio out of Houston, they offer layers of emotion and pretty harmonies that have been missing in R&B for a long time. Their voices may not be equally as effective as the ones you’ve heard—or as addictive—but they are equally as compelling. Sunny Days is a kaleidoscope of tender adolescent emotion and terrifically showcases the incredible vocal range of Alia, Lalisha, Akissa and Hem-Lee. Executive produced by Jeff Redd, the album offers varied production and vocal arrangements that don’t necessarily innovate, but are stimulating in some areas nonetheless. On “Never Let You Go”, the girls turn a song about stars and sighs into a sweet ballad listeners will believe was inspired by real, curl-your-toes-up love. Though “Wore Out Your Welcome” sounds a bit like Brownstone and echoes elements of the Destiny’s Child style, the track is a refreshing take on the “I used to love you but now I don’t, so get out” song that has been relegated to the cliché category in most rhythm and blues fare. The princess of urban croons, Lil’ Mo, adds her talent for vocal arrangement to this track as well.
Two of the best efforts on this LP are as different as any two songs could be. “Enjoy Yourself/Love Me” is a Friday-night, just got paid track that should be in heavy rotation at every skating rink and club in the country. Similarly, “Earn My Trust” is a Full Force-produced slow jam that evokes the naked emotion of Stephanie Mills, Karen White and, to be more contemporary, Xscape. The songwriting is not exceptional, but Allure’s style makes up for it and makes songs like “Earn My Trust” close to being classic material. The same is true for the flirtatious and sexy “The Shore (Wanna Be Your Lady)”, which features the penetrating violinist Miri Ben-Ari. The combination of a beautifully blended track with sexy melodies makes “The Shore” the best song on this LP.
What R&B album is complete without a spare, gospel-inspired song? “Only For a While” is genuinely exquisite, but only lasts for a moment. In that fleeting moment, Allure easily displays their talent and proves that they are capable of so much more than what is offered on Sunny Days. That said, this sophomore effort is not without club-bumping fare or sappy ballads. “Bump” is a dull tribute to loud speakers at the club and, includes a brief lyrical burst from newcomer Nucci Ray O. “Never Let You Go” is an overly emotive, Carey-esque ballad that is meant to make your heart ache with yearning and recognition but instead encourages a touch of heartburn.
Still, Allure has lived up to their name. They are certainly more mature and ready for the world, so to speak, than five years ago. Their voices are louder without being brash, their delivery is more assertive and confident. It’s hard to believe that the girls who could have been eclipsed or deterred by industry follies, that other girl group, and one-dimensional material, have returned with an effort that is close to being a tremendous achievement.