Jennifer Hudson – Self-Titled
ALBUM GRADE: B-
Full review after the jump!
Well, one thing is apparent after listening to Jennifer’s debut album — girl is a powerhouse. Unfortunately at times, it’s dually her blessing and her curse.
Jennifer shines on songs that fuel her love of big notes and fit her vocal chops to a “t”. However, how do you craft an album for a person who bucks every trend in music? You see, Jennifer can SANG. Not sing, but gut bucket black church in the woods of Alabama SANG. Not everyone likes that though. Some consider it “hollering,” others consider it “screaming.” No doubt, she can veer into that territory with such bombast and aplomb that she just does too much. As a result of her talent however, you can’t simply throw her in the studio with the “hot producer” of the moment, add some autotune and call it a hit.
You can tell from jump the balancing act that went into this album precisely because of that. The album is a mix of power ballads, emotionally powerful big voiced songs and attempts at hipness and lightweight R&B. There’s an even a Gospel song tacked onto the end of the album, which simply goes to show you the other songs on the album are really Jennifer’s attempt at making her voice fit into current R&B because her voice is SUITED for Gospel and old school soul songs.
However, young people don’t like old school and don’t buy that, so we end up with songs like “Spotlight” and “What’s Wrong (Go AWay)” featuring the ever ubiquitous T-Pain. It’s painfully obvious on songs like this where Jennifer has to restrain herself to fit into the current mold of radio-friendly, talent-not-required music. “Spotlight” does this better of all the songs on the album though admittedly. The Ne-Yo penned song & Stargate produced song has just the amount of restrain from Jennifer and just enough spunk to make it an excellent 1st single.
When Jennifer has MATERIAL that fits her musically, she shines. Songs that suit her are clearly her strong suit, and you can almost tell aurally which songs Jennifer liked and connected with and which ones she didn’t.
Standout tracks upon first cursory listen of the album include the fantastic “We Gon’ Fight” which Jennifer comes out the gate pouncing, her voice locking into pocket immediately from jump. She sounds at home in this updated feel of an Aretha-themed offshoot in my opinion, and when it slides into a short “Gospel-ized stomp & clap” track, you see why it works. The funky “Pocketbook” from Jim Beanz and Timbaland should have been placed later in the album to breakup the monotony of the 2nd half, however, it is a funky, fun and welcome addition, taking Jennifer’s voice into a sassy, syncopated pattern which we haven’t (and don’t for the rest of the album) hear. It’s young, hip and yet not crass or corny.
There are more songs that are middle-of-the-road AKA “OK but don’t love them” — “Invisible” fits the template midtempo ballad of The Underdogs, and is interchangeable with any other real singer in my opinion. Not bad, but not great. Sounds like the Ruben Studdard throwaway single from his last album “Change Me”. “Can’t Stop The Rain” sounds like country gone R&B, which fits Stargate’s mold a la Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”. “You Pulled Me Through” sounds like an American Idol finale song. On the Polow Da Don assisted “My Heart”, the lyrics fall short which short circuits the song before you can get into it. “Giving Myself” song doesn’t quite go where it could have gone to me. It feels as if the growth of the song was stunted at parts, with Jennifer not quite going where she could vocally. Live however, it will probably be a beast.
Overall, the album is not bad. It’s just alright — the sequencing could have been a bit better and I actually would love to hear what was left on the cutting room floor. I feel as if the material should have been better for such a highly anticipated album. However, it’s a pleasant listen through and through and shows glimmers throughout of what Jennifer is capable of, and that’s not an easy feat for a debut album from an artist with such an already-legendary voice and talent. It’s only the beginning, and with more time and thought, Jennifer’s next album should be more fitting for what could be one of the best voices of our Generation X & Y.