Currently, life is pretty exciting for the Hailey brothers. The single “Crazy” has hit big and K-Ci has just been charged with exposing himself on stage. The latter fact has induced the former Jodeci men to upgrade, already frequent, references to their church upbringing to the status of a daily bulletin. The court case should be fun. More fun than this album at least. Sadly X in this instance marks a spot to be avoided at all costs.
Not that this is entirely the duo’s fault. They can hardly be held responsible for the fact that the nasal, overly-trilled ballad style they perfected in the early nineties has become the basic blueprint for every manufactured boy band in the land. Nor is it exactly fair to them that “Jodeci” has become the shorthand word for everything that was wrong with black music until D’Angelo and the New Classic Soul crew came along. Nor can they be blamed for continuing to mine a seam which appears to hold an endless fascination for radio playlist compilers and the general public. To that extent I will excuse them.
But no further. Bad songs, tired arrangements and variable vocal performances are inexcusable—especially when you suspect that they could do things deifferently if they wished. There is sufficient evidence that they are good singers—check out their work on Calvin Richardson’s Country Boy release. Why they persist in a style that makes them sound at one moment completely anodyne and the next tortuously off-key is a puzzle. How they can convince people that their histrionic laments are heartfelt and sincere defeats me totally. Also their lyrics are unremittingly bad. Now, I don’t worry too much about words as a rule—I am a fan of house music for God’s sake—but what can you do with the couplet “If I had to change one thing about you / I wouldn’t change a thing” except stare at your shoelaces in embarrassment?
Perhaps they are just out of sync this year. Nothing sounds as bad as yesterday’s done-to-death style and there is a real feel of that about this album. Ten years in the business is a good run but singers like Jaheim and Tank have upped the ante of late and K-Ci and Jojo can’t aren’t convincing as the “new sound” anymore. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the choice of some of the producers—in particular Babyface. The same tricks are brought out that lost their freshness about five years ago. These are not slow jams but wet pop-ballads. The much heard “Crazy” sounds like any AOR fare—flat and unthreatening.
Hang on, isn’t this the album redeemed by two classic cuts which show the gospel roots and soulful credentials of the talented brothers? Not really. For some reason “I Can’t Find the Words” and “Wanna Do You Right” are being touted as classic “didn’t think they still made ‘em like that” gems. Admittedly, “Wanna” is pretty good and,with its use of the sublime riff from Luther Ingram’s “If Loving You Is Wrong”, forms the undeniable highpoint of the set. “Words” however strikes me as clumsy to the point of pastiche. It is far too conscious of being the album’s “real” soul number and vocally gilds the lily somewhat—spray-paints it to oblivion in fact.
There is one other bright spot in this whole sorry episode: “Thug N U Thug N Me” featuring (starring, in truth) the hardest working corpse in showbiz, Tupac. That this piece of playground pornography (“I got a lotta thug in me? I wanna put some of it in you”) should sound fresh and even witty speaks volumes about the tracks surrounding it. Tupac’s voice sounds assured and the delivery is adept and well paced, in marked contrast to the straining and stretching the singers indulge in. The album’s other resurrection—a Jodeci reunion—is best passed over in silence.
Having topped R&B, pop, hip-hop and even gospel charts, K-Ci and Jojo hold an esteemed place in recent musical history. This album was a good opportunity to re-assess that position and mark for us in which direction they were moving as they leave their “teenybop” years well behind. That opportunity has been missed. It would be consoling to imagine that a commercial and critical disaster would mean that the next offering would show us what they are capable of achieving. The success of “Crazy” probably puts paid to that. Pity—because there is talent here. Odd little lines and the occasional deft touch remind you of that. It is nowhere near enough.
The sleevenotes inform us that Tupac’s appearance was “by special invitation”. That church upbringing was obviously not in vain. Unlike this record.
// Notes from the Road
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