Follow the analogy: Britney is to McDonald’s as Christina is to Burger King, as Jessica is to Wendy’s as Mandy is to Dunkin Donuts or Dairy Queen. So if Samantha Mumba, Ireland’s answer to power pop, had a fast food persona, I’d give her something a little edgier, a little saucier—dare I say it, maybe the glorified dignity of Taco Bell.
I’m not sure comparing her to other teen music divas is really fair, since Mumba banks on singing skills and musical innovation that leaves the likes of Spears and Aguilera in the dust. Of course, in this league, musical innovation is like a sheep in wolf’s clothing—something as tame as a slightly obscure sample is a rarity, and a major feat. Still, early on in the album, Mumba effectively samples David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” (in “Body II Body”) and I’ve got to say—though I was skeptical, I was a little suckered.
Her album is chock full of all the necessities of a successful pop record: clever hooks, digestible vocal acrobatics, and sticky lyrics. Songs like “Always Come Back To Your Love” and “Isn’t It Strange” are so sunny, they nearly shine—their melodies conjure up images of puppies and playgrounds. (This is not necessarily a good thing.) But “Gotta Tell You”, the album’s opener and title track, delves so deeply into this genre’s commercial tricks that it sounds like a commercial for itself—you know, those songs you hear on the radio where through most of it you expect an announcer to chime in, talking about a cola or car dealership. Tracks like this function like diseases do—not pleasant per se, but you gotta hand it to them for sheer infection and stamina.
Other tracks are sure to prove that Mumba’s definitely not as innocent (or as lame) as her Yankee counterparts. And we’re not talking lack of innocence in a nymphet, striptease, harlot in waiting sort of way. No, Mumba balances her Velveeta-ishness with honestly sexy, sultry tracks—from a cover of Divine’s earthy late ‘90s hit “Late”, to funky, succulent numbers like “The Boy”, where she’s Brandy and Monica rolled into one—and The Boy is Hers. “Never Meant to Be”, one of the record’s few ballads, has a distracting keyboard countermelody but still shows sincere singing promise and a possibility of growth. And like she sings herself later on the album, well, “you gotta believe”, in her (“Believe In Me”).
Whether you love or hate how the Mumba Pop Machine has exercised her little tricks, it’s doubtful you’ll turn this album off without a your body jacking to still reverberating drum machine beats, a morsel of melody tainting your tongue. And generally speaking there’s enough here to chew on—you keep the meatier more R&B influenced numbers and chuck those fatty gimmicks.
// Notes from the Road
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