The first vocals on Shari Watson’s second album are Raphael Saadiq intoning “take one”. Indeed, the track that follows would have fit onto Instant Vintage seamlessly, with a beat that’s shamelessly Dre-aping in its bare hydraulics, syncopated studio string flourishes, and sci-fi synth touches, whilst Saadiq’s bass slouches thickly underneath. Those two words may well be a roundabout reference to the real Dre’s claims regarding Truth Hurts, as made in interviews around the time that “Addictive” was blowing up bigstyle on radio and MTV in 2002 (also heralding the unexpected return of the 18th Letter to the game).
As with Rakim, however, things didn’t really work out professionally between Truth and Dre and she left Aftermath soon afterwards, 1-take recording sessions and the “having to be two women to sing any better” regardless. Of course, the fact that “Addictive” was actually produced by DJ Quik, who chose to record the Indian backing vocals off a TV ad with his VCR (rather than, say, licence them), and her follow-up single by R Kelly (who was just then enmeshed in legal problems all of his own) killed her chances for commercial success stone dead.
And so Miss Watson has ended up on Saadiq’s label, Pookie Entertainment. Pookie, that furry bear-shaped weakness of comics’ most irascibly lazy gutbucket feline, Garfield. Garfield, who is shortly taking to the big screen in rotund orange CGI glory, voiced by Bill Murray. Bill Murray, who pulled off a marvellously quirky and touching performance in Lost in Translation that was all down to his subtle-yet-soulful, mischievously maudlin eyes, and had women far and wide declaring him irresistible. Now, Truth has a lot to learn from Bill Murray, for the main problem with this album is that it focuses on the physical side of relationships to the exclusion of just about anything else, and does so with an ungarnished directness (not for nothing did USA Today describe her as using “veracity like a blunt object”) that becomes either off-putting or disinteresting instead of seductive. More intensity, subtlety, and mystery would go a long way — and that’s coming from someone who enjoys Trina, Ludacris, and the 2 Live Crew.
Personality would be a big help, too: for although the album is not lacking in cohesion, its many points of reference form a whole that is both evocative of the (superior) originals, and less than the sum of its parts. There’s the Timbaland-style horn stabs and jittery Eastern sway of “Ride”, an opening that could be straight off Fan Mail on “Love U Better”, the vibe of circa “What They Do”-era Soulquarians without their hooks or drive on the Saadiq-produced “Lifetime”, and “Phone Sex”, which is an Afro-tinged, slowed down “Addictive” with hypnotic bass redolent of Tweet’s “Oops (Oh My)”. It’s pretty much a sequel to that masturbation-endorsing song, swapping the endearing silliness for a mobile-wielding other to make the session mutual.
“I’m just a call away / Don’t you want to cum today?” she sings at its end. Now, I find that more blatant than alluring, but if lines like “lets make the neighbours jealous… Your legs around my pelvis” or “I’m on my knees /And you know I’m not about to pray” rub you the right way, then you’ll doubtless find most of the album a turn-on. I find the all-pervading focus on the carnal side of the “love” on offer demeaning and depressing; this is the “love” that speaks its name with all the frankness of an applied biology textbook. Truth hardly shares anything of herself as it is, preferring straight appraisals of the universal to any real intimacy, but when she’s trying to win her man by promising “She ain’t gon’ do / What I’ma do” on “Love U Better” or telling her cheating fella on another track that he “Can’t Be Mad” if she plays away too, it’s very hard to feel even normal empathy for someone who tries to solve all her relationship problems with what’s beneath her waist. When, on “Catch 22”, she declares “I will patiently await to see the beauty in love”, you feel sad for her, not with her, because going by this album’s “message” she’s waiting in vain.
This is especially unfortunate because the title-track has her in vulnerable and sinuous form over a dissonant beat, and the chorus of “Can’t Be Mad”, when she switches flow three times, is a dextrous delight irrespective of the lyrics. There is promise here awaiting an intriguing musical persona, so it is ironic that we learn almost nothing about Truth at all — to everyone’s loss. The ever-perspicacious Bard revealed that “the eyes have it”, but sadly no-one really needs to be reminded that Truth is blind.