Are there any cats out there who are really into Floetry? Do they inspire wonder and delight in some, devotion even? They have been up for six Grammys, after all, even if they didn’t win any, and being that close to renown with your debut (in this case Floetic) before being deprived, Kanye-style, must bring out a few underdog supporters. The duo, comprising of Marsha Ambrosius and the somewhat-less-regally named Natalie Stewart, also have the attraction of the outsider, as although their first album drew strongly on the musical associations they made while in Philly, where they’d been invited to perform under the aegis of The Roots’ Black Lily gatherings, they are in fact both Londoners — something not really evident in Marsha’s singing voice, and toned down in Natalie’s raps on their debut, but pretty obvious on this, their second album proper. Thus you Yanks got a bit of Brit with your beats, and Floetry’s home team, who are notoriously fickle when it comes to actually buying black musical product from the UK, were enticed by the gleam of American production panache.
Floetry obviously appeal to big name producers; they had a Timbaland joint that I think was released as an extra with the intervening live album, whilst Marsha did backing vocals on “Cry Me a River” and the Dr. Dre-helmed “Start From Scratch” by The Game. Other claims to fame are writing songs for Jill Scott and Michael Jackson; at any rate, for this album they’ve garnered the production firepower of Scott “Lean Back” Storch, Raphael “quietly everywhere” Saadiq and Whiteleaf Productions (“who?”), as well as the team from the debut. And Mr. Sense himself drops by for a few bars on the Storch-produced “SupaStar”, although even Common fans are unlikely to get very excited about the banal sentiments expressed.
On the whole then, there seem to be a fair few reasons to be into Floetry, but unfortunately the songs on this new album are not amongst that number. This may be partially because I’ve become inured to just about everything in the R&B/nu/soul category that’s happened since Jill Scott’s first album, or it may be because the endemic “beats and vibes over songs” effect that’s consuming this generation of artists has also, objectively, struck here as well. Hip-hop is fundamentally about polyrhythmic interplay, so making a solid beat the basis of a track is logical, but with soul — nu or timeless — what matters is melody and harmony, and these tend to suffer when caged by a strong beat, or seem aimless when cast over an unimpressive one. No matter what anyone has to say about Motown’s production line approach to songwriting, if drumming worked for Marvin Gaye, it might be worth giving it a go again.
Personal peccadilos aside, opener “Blessed 2 Have” is quality catchy fun that manages to be both humble and slinky in a way recalling the Jazzyfatnastees, and celebrating the gift of days can only be laudable in our time of instantaneous gratification and impatience. “I’ll Die”, meanwhilst, pinches some vocal patterns from Cee-Lo Green’s “Sometimes” (this is a very good thing), though it loses its taughtness as the track progresses. Apart from this the songs have a lamentable way of running into each other, with atmospheric and tasteful beats that plod their way into indistinguishable amnesia whilst Marsha sings with much feeling but without memorable tunes or lines, and Natalie’s spoken word lacks the poetic acuity to enhance things musically or penetrate lyrically. The whole is pleasant and well crafted enough but, as with the ironically generic husky breathing and sighing of closer “Imagination”‘s celebration of inventive sensuality, mostly lacking in insight, innovation or interest.
To me that is; if you’re a candle-lit slow jam fanatic I’m sure this will be Christmas come early. You’ll also receive three tracks that weren’t on my promo, including a cover of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain”; but I think you’d be much better served in terms of sensuality, originality and Marley covers if you picked up young Brazilian CéU’s eponymous debut. Either way Floetry have talent, even if the results are not to my taste, so for once I’d rather welcome a bit of hatemail from people who really are into them, just to confirm that the latter exist.