[10 November 2009]
Positioning a new artist is not easy, especially young black artists, who tend to come a dime a dozen.
Unfortunately, there is also a perception that black artists are competing for limited space in a way other artists are not, which puts more pressure on young black artists than is probably fair. And often consumers can mistake a more subtle, non-flashy artist for a mediocre one. In the case of young black male singers, the industry has made it even tougher by overstuffing the marketplace with too many thin-voiced young new jacks with whiny timbres, very little range, and wobbly falsettos, which doesn’t make it any easier to stand out from the pack.
This is the problem that J. Holiday has with Round 2. It’s a perfectly pleasant album. In many ways, it is more consistently enjoyable than any of Chris Brown’s work and Trey Songz’ latest album. But it’s also so bland that it can’t overcome the fact that J. Holiday is not as terrific a singer as Songz, not as dynamic a personality as Brown, and not as great a songwriter as Ne-Yo. And that is going to make it hard for consumers to pick J. Holiday out from the crowd.
Still, there are enough charms here to warrant a listen. J. Holiday benefits greatly from some stellar vocal arrangements throughout, which mostly obscures the fact that he himself is a fine, if unspectacular singer. The lead single, “It’s Yours”, is not dissimilar from his breakthrough hit, “Bed”, and has done fairly well since its release in January.
The album’s best songs, “Fall” and “Don’t Go”, follow in quick succession. “Fall” is probably the best indication that J. Holiday has more range than we have yet heard from him. He sounds more assured and in control of the song than he does anywhere else. “Don’t Go”, a Ne-Yo song, is among the stronger pieces he’s written lately. The only other song to distinguish itself is “Forever Ain’t Enough”, a piano ballad that is dangerously close to maudlin and cloying. I imagine it is the kind of song that people will either love or hate. Either way, like “Fall”, it shows that J. Holiday might be capable of more.
Round 2 is a pleasant, safe, well-made album, and a significant improvement over J. Holiday’s 2007 debut. And there is something to be said for workmanlike, serviceable black pop. J. Holiday proves that he deserves a spot alongside his contemporaries to win the hearts of a fickle public. There are enough hints here that J. Holiday is capable of more. It remains to be seen whether we will get to hear it.