[10 July 2005]
Why is it that producers have sexy-sounding soul crooners sing to mechanical beats? Someone must presume that having a percussive background clunk along behind an artist makes the vocalist sound more human. Maybe that was the case back in the ‘70s when looped rhythms were something new, but thudding drum machines and clanging effects no longer sound cool or even retro—they just irritate. Bobby Valentino’s new solo release suffers from too much lackadaisical production of this sort.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t matter for this Usher-lite pretty boy. Like Usher, Valentino (whose real surname is Wilson) presents himself as a sex symbol. His last name evokes Valentine’s Day and the old-time star of romantic movies. Valentino’s songs all concern the same thing: he wants to make hot, passionate love to a sexy woman—“On the couch, on the floor / On the sink, anywhere you like”—as he states on “Lights Down Low”. Unfortunately, the music and lyrics are less than erotic.
While Valentino has a pleasant voice, there is nothing distinctive about his instrument. He goes from song to song performing pale imitations of R&B style singers from the past, such as the aforementioned Usher (“Slow Down”), Stevie Wonder (“Never Lonely”), Gerald Levert (“My Angel”) and others. The irony is that a sign on the cover says “Real R&B Singers Needed”—one might presume Valentino believes he fits the bill but after hearing the disc, one realizes the sign is still applicable as Valentino doesn’t fill the vacancy.
Valentino’s lame self-penned lyrics don’t help. The album’s first single “Slow Down” has already reached the pop charts and its video has saturated the Black Entertainment Television (BET) programming, but this says more about the vacuity of what’s out there then the song’s merit. Consider the chorus recited to a generic chucka chucka handclap beat: “Slow down I just wanna get to know you / But don’t turn around / Cuz that pretty round thing looks good to me / Slow down never seen anything so lovely / Now turn around / And bless me with your beauty, cutie / It’s hard to know where to begin.” Sure, conceptually the song does not differ much from classic pop hits like Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, but the devil lies in the details. Valentino’s description of the girl’s butt and the rhyming of “beauty” and “cutie” go beyond trite into the realm of the banal. And when he continues with “A butterfly tattoo / Right above your naval / Your belly button’s pierced too just like I like it girl,” the insipid becomes even more insufferable. One can almost guess that other lyrics will be full of clichés like “You need a man to treat you right,” “Other girls don’t compare to you,” “No one knows me like you,” etc.
The most repulsive track is “Gangsta Love”, with its warbling, cooing sticky street sentiments, (i.e. “From her head down to her toe she’s a lady / She’s always got my back she’s never shady”). This “ghetto gangsta queen” carries a 22 caliber weapon and is just like one of the narrator’s “homies” except “she likes to get naughty.” The song is unintentionally comic, a parody of a love song to a tough gal.
So let’s add things up. Valentino has an undistinguished voice, writes hackneyed lyrics, and his instrumental backing suffers from tedious production values. As the ump says, three strikes and you’re out. Valentino likes sports metaphors, too. “You’re just like a ballplayer / You bounce it everywhere / Your game is so tight,” he sings on “Come Touch Me”. And as the preceding inane lyric again reveals, Valentino’s not very deep or affective. He may share the same last name as the charismatic silent film star, but Rudy could say more with his eyes then Bobby can sing with his whole body on an entire CD worth of material.