Koffee Brown: Mars/Venus

Koffee Brown

Things are looking pretty good on the R&B/Soul scene so far this year. Musiq, India.Arie, Sunshine Anderson, Jaheim and Tank all have strong releases out. A more musical, vocally rich style characterises these acts and they are all selling records in serious quantity. Perhaps the nu-soul ethos is starting to spread, perhaps the Puff Daddy/Jermaine Dupri era is coming to an end. Whatever is going on, it has meant that a song like “After Party” which would have barely got a release two years ago is a current anthem and rides high on the R&B charts both sides of the Atlantic. The album that surrounds it should do equally well and will add the name of Koffee Brown to the list of artists who are putting melody back on the streets.

Koffee Brown are a duo consisting of Vee from Newark, a session singer till now, and Fonz, from Missouri, who has, always a good sign, a gospel background. KayGee, who is on something of a roll right now, put them together and is responsible for the production and much of the feel of this album. Traces of Zhane and Next can be detected but this just might be his most enjoyable project. Catchy, danceable tracks rub shoulders with soulful slow jams and there is that special mix of the rough and the smooth that marks the best of the genre. I am, as they say, definitely feeling this one.

Firstly, however, we have to dispose of the “concept”. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, OK? Right, let’s hear no more of it — as it gives even “pop psychology” a bad name. Suffice to say that this is an album about men-women attitudes and relationships, both sides getting their say. Given that 90% of soul albums have always been about that, this is not as surprising or innovative as it claims. The male-female interplay is more interesting in that it works stylistically, rather than in terms of content. The content is fine though — apart from the spoken introduction, which is as hilariously bad as the spoken astrological bits on The Floaters “Float On” and in a sane world would be sufficient reason for the Parental Discretion sticker that this album carries.

So, not an auspicious start — but things pick up rapidly. “Weekend Thing” is the real opening track and bumps and bounces along to great effect. Sharp lyrics — all the fun of preparation and anticipation for Saturday night — the stuff of pop dreams since time immemorial. Nicely up-to-date though — all the right jargon — delivered with real zest, the only problem is that it vanishes all too quickly. Never mind, because we are straight into “After Party”, a justly praised two-stepper that sounds like a classic ’80s rare groove, an early ’90s anthem and as fresh as tomorrow morning. This one will be a club favourite for years to come. The light, almost poppy “Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” completes a lively trio. This is so infectious you will swear you know it already — a little lightweight perhaps but with a charm of its own. As with a number of the songs, this contains a rap insert, which will annoy some purists. I have no problem with them. In fact, they take a little of the sugar off the fluffier material.

Slowing down somewhat, next up are two superior “Cheatin'” tracks. “Chick On Da Side” and “Fingerpointing” are nicely accusatory and the twin-lead vocal exchanges, which run through the whole album, are at their most effective. “Fingerpointing” is the better song and is as good as any in a long history of such tunes. Falonte Moore is on production duties for both and shows a real sense of how to get the most out of a hook and a bassline. These are solid, weighty grooves. The “love wars” theme continues but starts to pall slightly over the rest of the disc. Various documentary snippets are actually quite thought-provoking but none of the later cuts rise above standard pop-R&B fare. Rousing vocals and crisp arrangements avoid too steep a descent into the mundane. Also, there is sufficient variety in mood. The irreverent “Quickie” will win no friends among puritans but is, as you would expect, good not-so-clean fun. Old soul fans will appreciate the ballad “Hater’s Disease” while the closing track “Do U See” provides a delicate finale. The best of the rest is “All I Need”, a meaty mid-tempo swayer.

There is no genuine poetic or philosophical depth to this album and you will not learn anything new about contemporary mores. Yet each track has its moments and some are good enough to cherish and keep re-playing. This album sounds great in the car, in a club or on the radio. More grown-up than Destiny’s Child but not yet middle-aged, Koffee Brown are mainstream but hip enough. These two newcomers put in impressive performances and are excellent as the “sparring” couple. It really is a double act with two lead voices, each on top form, with one never over-shadowed by the other. Producer KayGee has a light touch and manages to impart a little sparkle on to even the most tired of lines. Fortunately most of the material is wide-awake and KayGee makes the most of it in another very polished and assured outing. Ignore the pretensions towards some sort of statement (i.e. skip most of the interludes) and enjoy a well-crafted and ably delivered set.