Six years is a LONG time between albums, especially when you haven’t really established a public identity yet. Just ask Sunshine Anderson. As 2001 dawned, Sunshine was poised to become the next hit R&B singer. With a thick voice and a sass that seemed to be acquired from the great soul divas of the past, her debut single “Heard It All Before” became a huge hit. The album that followed, Your Woman, debuted in the Top 10, went Gold and then… silence. Her label, Soulife, folded, it’s parent label, Atlantic, neglected to hold on to her, and Sunshine fell into the vast expanse of one-hit wonders. Now signed to the Music World label by Mathew (I’m Beyonce’s daddy) Knowles, Anderson is attempting to reignite her career with Sunshine at Midnight, her provocatively titled second album.
In that time, the R&B diva landscape has shifted quite a bit. Mary J. has gone from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul to the rightful heir to Aretha’s crown, and Beyonce has left Destiny’s Child far behind and become R&B’s every woman. Aaliyah, still a rising star when Anderson debuted, is now a lamented legend. Sunshine at Midnight tries to make peace with the new world of femme R&B, and while the voice remains strong in parts, the material is sorely lacking. Anderson’s website makes light of Sunshine being more than happy to pick up the drama that Blige has supposedly left behind, but Midnight sounds like stuff Blige would have left on the studio floor even when she was at the height of her “drama”.
You can split this album into two fairly clear-cut halves, with the first five songs being up tempo. Slow jams fill out the second half of the 10-song LP, and it’s hard to pick which side is more unimaginative. Remember back in 1999 and 2000, when ‘No Scrubs” and “Bills, Bills, Bills” led off the trend of male-bashing among female R&B artists? Anderson still hasn’t moved beyond that point, and it’s officially tired now. The production of the songs is good enough to keep you interested — ”Trust” has a crunchy rock groove and an off-kilter melody, while “Switch It Up” has a nifty piano part that sounds very reminiscent (if it’s not an outright sample) of Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice”. However, the head-nodding production is offset by the lyrics, which are often downright juvenile. “Life’s a bitch, but that’s what happens when you’re a snitch” has no real soul or meaning. It sounds like Sunshine and her co-writers just went through a dictionary of hip-hop buzzwords and found something that fit in the framework of the song.
While the first half of the album is average, the second half is completely boring. The ballads (produced by the likes of Raphael Saadiq and Mike City, both of whom have done much better) are generic and sleepy R&B click tracks with keyboard flourishes. The lyrics are standard “I love you baby” commercial R&B, and it’s hard to say what’s more painful to listen to — hackneyed love ballads or hackneyed ‘woman scorned” songs. Sunshine At Midnight’s nadir comes with “Force of Nature”, where Sunshine finds herself “in love with a thug”. We’ve already heard these lyrics a million times before, but Sunshine goes on to say that her mom and dad don’t approve of him, but she “loves his dirty drawers” because he’s “a force of nature”. You can’t make up songs this bad.
It’s hard to believe that Anderson has squandered her second chance like this. While R&B divas like Jill Scott and Alice Smith add witty lyrics and musicianship to their soulful vocals, Anderson seems content to be the patron saint for the girlfriend of every lie-detector-test-taking cheating man on the Maury Povich show. With an album this lackluster, it’s safe to say that this Sunshine Anderson will be quickly slipping into darkness.