Holiday Break

Kelis getting her holiday on

Kelis getting her holiday on

Hello everyone, I hope this post finds you all enjoying your summer. It has been a crazy year thus far and I’m going to be taking a bit a breather for the rest of July. I will return in August with new content to share, I’ve also written for PopMatters and Blogcritics recently―see my archives for links to those essays. Thanks again to all those reading.

By the way, if you’ve never heard (or seen) the fantastic summer jam “4th of July (Fireworks)” by Kelis, which is where the photo is from, do yourself a favor and click here. Be well. Q.

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Seal’s “Seal II” Turns 20 on Blogcritics

"Prayer for the Dying" single cover

“Prayer for the Dying” single cover

My essay on Seal’s second self-titled LP Seal II (1994), is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Celebrating its 20th birthday last month, this album is home to Seal’s popular hit “Kiss From a Rose” and other treasures. Make sure to check it out!

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Brandy’s 20th Anniversary Celebrated on Blogcritics

 

20 Years of Brandy Norwood

20 Years of Brandy Norwood

 

My essay on Brandy Norwood’s 20th anniversary in music is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. All six of Norwood’s albums are discussed in detail through three movements. Make sure to check it out!

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Jennifer Lopez Aims for “Tens” on “A.K.A” LP

Lopez in 2014

Lopez “acting like that” on new LP.

Usually satisfying and only occasionally disappointing, a new Jennifer Lopez record is worth cheering for. In this pop drought―over a decade Stateside if you’ve got discerning tastes―Lopez is one of the last American pop institutions that represents the genre in its natural splendor.

However, when Lopez left the stale taste of Love? (2011) lingering, it seemed she was concerned with competing versus creating. With her eighth LP A.K.A., Lopez still wants to stand her ground with these new girls and offer a few treats too.

The sound arc of A.K.A. is a cool veneer of urban-pop that Lopez has (mostly) perfected. In fact, the album goes down as smooth as Brave (2007), though nothing here approaches its genius.

There are glimpses into what can only be called “classic Jennifer Lopez,” but Lopez keeps the music contemporary and formatted to her personality. The riding cuts (“A.K.A.,” “Acting Like That”) and the previously mentioned classics (“First Love,” “Troubeaux”) are here; a few ballads fill out the remainder of A.K.A. The latter includes the vintage romance of “Let It Be Me” that orbits the atmosphere of Como Ama una Mujer (2007) and the synthy-soap of “So Good”. Both cuts have Lopez in good voice and demonstrate that with 15 years under her belt, Lopez can give a song her own unique read.

What’s really interesting is hearing Lopez tap into her campier side with A.K.A.; “I Luh Ya Papi” (the erroneous lead single), “Booty” and “Tens” are all delectably tongue-in-cheek―only “Booty” flatlines. If one thought Lopez couldn’t conquer the fluffy entries of “Good Hit” and “Papi” from Love?, the summer street sass of “I Luh Ya Papi” and the flashy “Tens” make a strong case for Lopez just wanting to let her hair down.

Those mentioned songs also can be counted among the nine features that dot A.K.A., depending on the edition purchased. While Nas delivers a dashing verse on the punchy “Troubeaux,” Pitbull’s appearance on “Booty” will make Lopez listeners groan. Majority of these collaborations don’t feel organic and while they don’t obstruct Lopez, she is capable of handling the mass of the material herself.

“First Love”

Directed By: Anthony Mandler

There are unequivocal misses, such as the droning “Worry No More” and “Same Girl” that drain the energy of the record’s better sides. In all, A.K.A.’s bold title only grazes the surface of Lopez’s true versatility, but it presents a more coherent offering than Love? did. One wishes Lopez could settle on a persona and flesh it out sonically, but Lopez supplies some respite from the lesser beings roaming the pop landscape today. Ranking: Average

[Editor's Note: A.K.A. is available digitally & physically in a variety of formats; the album reviewed here was the deluxe version. For current information on Jennifer Lopez, visit her official website.-QH]

 

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Jennifer Lopez: The Road to “A.K.A”

Lopez in 'Billboard Magazine,' 2014.

Lopez for Billboard, 2014.

As with the best in the field of pop, Jennifer Lopez became an unexpected heroine of that said movement. Appearing in 1999 alongside the likes of Britney Spears and Hikaru Utada―two women who redefined pop across a decade very differently―Lopez’s flavorful, but predictable spice didn’t feel lasting.

Fifteen years later, Lopez’s music generates conversation as much as her acting career and other entertainment endeavors.

There have been victories and defeats, many of those definitions subjective when asking certain segments of her base.

On the eve of her eighth studio player A.K.A (Capitol), The QH Blend takes a quick look back at Lopez’s previous platters―the exceptional and the dismal. The QH Blend’s review on A.K.A. will follow this entry sometime tomorrow.

On the 6

On the 6

On the 6 (1999, Epic)

Singles: “If You Had My Love,” “No Me Ames,” “Waiting for Tonight,” “Feelin’ So Good,” “Let’s Get Loud”

Synopsis: In hindsight, On the 6 was an unassuming starting point for this actress who held an ambition to become a pop vocalist. The singles were professional and pitched between the Latin fascination of 1999 and that millennial cusp of dance, R&B, hip-hop and pop. “Waiting for Tonight” stands as one of Lopez’s most authoritative (and lovely) vocals committed; “Let’s Get Loud” remains as tacky as it was then unfortunately. The album fare was decent enough (“Should’ve Never,” “Open Off My Love“), but felt secondary to the sheer power of “If You Had My Love” and the aforementioned “Waiting for Tonight”.

 

J.Lo

J.Lo

J.Lo (2001, Epic)

Singles: “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” “Play,” “Ain’t It Funny,” “I’m Real”

Synopsis: Lopez’s predecessor Paula Abdul rectified the dreaded “singles vehicle” tag with her second LP, 1991′s Spellbound. There, Abdul cut hits and non-singles that showed that she could charm throughout an entire album. In that regard, Lopez’s second album felt like a step back and forward jointly. A fantastic singles project, J.Lo had Lopez wielding a variety of pop weaponry in “Play” (Euro-dance funk) and “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” (neo-freestyle).

The two remaining singles (“Ain’t It Funny,” “I’m Real“) found new life in hip-hop-pop skins later in 2001 through the now defunct Murder Inc. empire; see J to Tha L―O! The Remixes (2002, Epic) for details.  The remainder of J.Lo played as an afterthought in the wake of more films and endorsement deals; as a result, J.Lo is Lopez’s weakest offering still.

 

This Is Me...Then

This Is Me…Then

This is Me…Then (2002, Epic)

Singles: “Jenny From the Block,” “All I Have,” “I’m Glad,” “Baby I ♥ U”

Synopsis: At the critical mass of her popular culture summit, Lopez released her first artistic statement. The record was a gorgeous latticework of adult pop tempered with Lopez’s obvious affections to the music that informed her Bronx youth. Stepping forward vocally (“You Belong to Me,” originally by Carly Simon), lyrically (“I’ve Been Thinkin’”) and musically (“Again”) Lopez had flexed her creative muscles. It didn’t hurt that she landed her first definitive single in the process, the minty cool of “Jenny From the Block”. The cut dovetailed between irony and reality, suggesting a clever mind behind those pretty eyes. The album was also home to one of her most unsung singles thus far, the lush “I’m Glad”.

 

Rebirth

Rebirth

Rebirth (2005, Epic)

Singles: “Get Right,” “Hold You Down”

Synopsis: Clearly a holding pattern,  Rebirth was a hodge podge of previous Lopez incarnations. There was the hit that called this LP home (“Get Right” ) and there were a host of other songs relegated to album tracks that deserved the single treatment (“Whatever You Wanna Do,” “Cherry Pie”). In all, Rebirth didn’t recreate anything versus just reprise certain ideas in a sharper context.

In particular, “(Can’t Believe) This Is Me” felt glaringly out of place in the midst of the other contemporary urban-pop stock on the record. It would find its space on Lopez’s next recording, one of her biggest musical gambles ever.

 

Como Ama una Mujer

Como Ama una Mujer

Como Ama una Mujer (2007, Epic)

Singles: “Qué Hiciste,” “Me Haces Falta”

Synopsis: The translation of the album title reads as “How a woman loves” . For Lopez it was an apt description, she had come into her own as a vocalist that held more shades of expression than anyone had realized. From the melancholia of “Sola” or the rushing passion of the lead single “Qué Hiciste,”  Lopez had arrived at a new era in what her music could do. Though many critics guffawed at Lopez’s attempt at a quieter recording, she steadied on and the album earned hearty sales internationally.

The previously mentioned “(Can’t Believe) This Is Me” that felt painfully out of place on Rebirth was recast as “Porque Te Marchas” ; it fit right in on this cinematic beauty of an album.

 

Brave

Brave

Brave (2007, Epic)

Singles: “Do It Well,” “Hold It Don’t Drop It”

Synopsis: Released several months after Como Ama una Mujer, Lopez transported her ambition from that project across to this one. An album free of production ego―meaning the producer constructed the backdrop and allowed Lopez to bring it to life on her own―made Brave one of her most pleasurable plays. It was also the third album in Lopez’s catalogue to be solid from back to front. Opening with the salty-and-sweet snap of “Stay Together” and closing with the fragile titular track, Lopez mesmerized with strong performances throughout Brave.

The two singles earmarked from this release also had Lopez in her zone; “Hold It Don’t Drop It” showcased Lopez strutting alongside a sample of “It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares as if she was born to do it. Sadly, the record stalled with a broader audience and has since become something of a lost gem.

 

Love?

Love?

Love? (2011, Island / Def Jam)

Singles: “On the Floor,” “I’m Into You,” “Papi”

Synopsis: The long, painful road to Lopez’s first post-Epic Records album was frustrating when the product finally emerged. After the sabotaged “Fresh Out of the Oven”―one of Lopez’s more interesting songs―Lopez went straight for the chart coin with the bulk of this album. While always chart conscious to a degree, she had previously displayed an ability to toggle between that ambition and adventurous territory.

The singles were perfunctory with “On the Floor” becoming the chartbuster of the trio released from Love?. The album material ranked as her worst since J.Lo; none of the growth exercised over the two albums that preceded Love?appeared here. There were two convincing moments on Love? though: “Good Hit” and “(What Is) Love?” were winks to her engaging pop of yore.

[Editor's Note: Only Lopez's labels were featured in the piece due to its focus on her. All of the discussed recordings are in print, physically & digitally. For more information on Jennifer Lopez, visit her official site.-QH]

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Alanis Morissette’s “So-Called Chaos” Turns 10 on Blogcritics

Alanis Morissette, circa 2004

Alanis Morissette, circa 2004

My essay on Alanis Morissette’s  sixth LP, So-Called Chaos (2004), is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Celebrating its 10th birthday this month, this misunderstood album is given a second glance. Make sure to check it out!

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Kim Wilde’s “Teases & Dares” Turns 30 on Blogcritics

Kim Wilde, circa 1984

Kim Wilde, circa 1984

My essay on Kim Wilde’s fourth long player, Teases & Dares (1984), is up for reading now at Blogcritics, where it was first published. Celebrating Wilde’s MCA Records debut, which had her further court synth-pop and dance music, I peer into one of her most beloved recordings. Make sure to check it out!

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