While British sister act Cleopatra earned comparisons to the Spice Girls with their pop-focused 1998 debut, the trio are aiming to capture fans of TLC and Destiny’s Child on their sophomore effort, Steppin’ Out. The Higgins sisters — Cleopatra, Yonah, and Zainam — are still in their teens, but they are adopting a more adult image to expand their US audience. While the makeover is certainly cosmetic (just check out the sexy, midriff-baring outfits the girls wear in the cover photos), it also extends to the music, which is entrenched in the hip-hop and R&B sounds of America.
As on their debut, the Higgins sisters co-wrote most of the tracks on Steppin’ Out. It’s little surprise, then, that most of the songs deal with young love in a fairly uncomplicated way. Thankfully, Cleopatra display as much sass as they do longing, such as on “Who’s Your Woman”: “I don’t wanna play your / kind of games no more / I wanna be myself, not a stand-in for / the last girl that you saw.” Just like the ever-cool TLC, they don’t want no scrubs.
In “Take Me Now,” Cleopatra show a brazen confidence that belies their years: “Who’s gonna kiss you like I do / Gonna hold you the way I do / No other’s gonna make / your dreams come true.” This kind of “I’m the bomb and I know it” attitude goes a long way in an R&B song.
Although Steppin’ Out boasts a more consistent batch of songs than many R&B albums, there are still a few cringe-inducers. “Press Here to Start,” one of the two songs the girls had no hand in writing, suffers from its overly gimmicky use of technological terms as euphemisms for sex. There’s something unnerving about hearing an 18-year-old nymphet sing “My software needs some protection / A hardware connection / Click here if you need affection” — especially when the song was written by three men.
“Bingo My Love” is also too goofy for its own good. Using the children’s song “B-I-N-G-O” as the melody of an R&B song is a nifty idea, but using the refrain as the chorus seems just plain lazy. Besides, it’s fairly nonsensical in the context of the song. Presumably, “bingo” means gambling on love, but bingo is about the least sexy form of gambling Cleopatra could have chosen for an analogy. It’s the game your granny plays at church functions.
Still, there are enough standouts, like “Take Me Now,” “Sweat Me,” and “Yes This Party’s Going Right,” to make Steppin’ Out a success. Cleopatra might not have the strongest voices on the R&B scene, but they have smooth production and a great bunch of songs, and that’s a rare enough combination.