Okay, I'm cutting straight to the chase today - and, while I know I usually spend a paragraph talking about the artist for each review I post, it simply isn't going to happen with this one. Not because I have anything against Kelly Rowland, mind you (I don't), and not even because I think the "shirt" she's wearing for her album cover is hideous and disturbing (am I wrong here? also, am I the only one who strongly suspects a nip slip, but doesn't want to zoom in close enough to see?). I don't-hate her SO MUCH, in fact, that I even read the vast majority of her Wikipedia article, where I learned she's a mezzo-soprano born in Georgia. So why do I refuse to delve into the interview circuit with this former Destiny's Child and current #7 on People's most beautiful people list? Because I literally cannot Google her name and the word "interview" without finding link after link after link to interviews where she spends tons of time talking about Beyoncé. And as this album is very intent on proving, Rowland may not be her own woman yet, artistically speaking, but she's sure as hell not Beyoncé.
So let's get straight to the record. As I mentioned, one of the first things I noticed listening to this album is that, while pretty much all of the tracks are perfectly decent examples of contemporary R&B, the majority of them are also derivative likeyareadabout. For example, first track "Freak" is an EXTREMELY literal cover of Jamie Foxx's 2010 track, right down to the burbling champagne-and-sex-in-the-hot-tub synths and vocal breakdowns ("Vases, chandeliers, glass of wine, can of beer/Alcohol can't interfere, here's the wheel, can you steer?"), and the best part of "Gone" featuring Wiz Khalifa is the chorus, which is ripped directly from Joni Mitchell's 1970 tune "Big Yellow Taxi" ("Don't it always seem to go/That you don't know what you got till it's gone"). Then "Red Wine" cops Brandy's signature vocal layering and cushiony synths, and "Street Life" featuring Pusha T is basically a trippy mash up of the Crusaders' disco classic of the same name and Beyoncé's "Naughty Girl" ("The name of the game is money"). Of course, Rowland doesn't limit her references to other artists, either: "Talk a Good Game" featuring Kevin Cossom winks at Destiny's Child classics like "Say My Name" with both its phrasing and relaxed, textured beat, and the autobiographical "Dirty Laundry" capitalizes on Rowland's tabloid history with Beyoncé to add extra punch to the lyrics ("While my sister was on stage/Killin' it like a motherfucker/I was enraged/Feelin' it like a motherfucker") (on the plus side, this song made me remember the cut "Laundromat" from Nivea's 2002 release, which I totally loved. gonna have to listen to that one again!). And before I forget, let's talk about the bonus tracks, which begin with dirty slow jam "Sky Walker" featuring The-Dream (incidentally, this track sounds a lot like the stuff on his newest, which I sadly [but kinda intentionally] didn't get a chance to review) ("You need a main girl that fucks you like a side chick"). There's also the languorous "Put Your Name On It", whose electric guitar is the most interesting thing about it, and final cut "#1", which pairs a simmering background with scorned lyrics ("I ain't gonna lie baby that's so whack/How you gonna try and play me like that").
Hmm, somewhere along the way I think I got sidetracked, so let me get back to my point. As my earlier Google search proved in spades, Rowland is still both escaping from and reveling in Beyoncé's shadow (playing up their relationship in interviews, while writing a whole song - well, having The-Dream write a whole song - about her jealousy of Beyoncé's success), and she hasn't quite nailed a sound that couldn't be mistaken for someone else's. However, she's still certainly gone the edgy direction while exploring her options (see first single "Kisses Down Low"), and she can definitely can carry a single, even if this whole record doesn't sound quite authentically like it's gotta be HER. Or in other words, this album is unoriginal but well-written (for Top-40), well-produced, and reasonably well-sung. You know, average.