I chose Catch 22 for a very simple and obvious reason: a singer who tends to be rather harsh shows surprising proficiency with subtlety and vulnerability.
Truth Hurts’ first album was beautiful in its toughness. Here was a vocalist who wrote songs about how tough she was and matched that with a phrasing that was like a brick. That’s not to say the songs weren’t emotional and engaging because they truly were, especially songs like Bullshit, Next to Me, and Jimmy.
However, on Catch 22 from her second album, her phrasing has a softness to it. It’s more fluid, though she doesn’t totally abandon her style. She just adds a few subtleties to her approach to show the cracks in the armor. And it works perfectly for the song.
Love Me Better might be the single greatest Stevie Wonder ballad that Stevie Wonder didn’t write or sing. The late Kenny Greene cements with the first couplet – made you a crown to call your own, made out of grass just like your thrown – that he is every bit the lyric (as in poetry) songwriter that Stevie is, and nearly as good.
The thing about Intro was that even though Kenny Greene handled all the leads, the songs were arranged so that all three voices make the song work. Here Kenny’s tender lead singing is actually the part of the song that you get to last because the hook grabs you so totally. The vocal arrangement of it is so intricate and specific in the emotion it conveys that you almost don’t hear the words. This is important because the lyrics are lyrical (again, as in poetry) and intimate more than they explain.
702 should have been huge stars. Jealousy is a perfect showcase for why I think this is true. The song is not single-worthy in the conventional sense, as it structurally has small ebbs and flows instead of crescendos and sweeping arrangements. It is a wonderful mood piece that gives lead singer, Meelah, an opportunity to invest a very simple melody with stunning, subtle emotional beats, much the way great blues singers do.
On this song, she reminds me of Aaliyah on her greatest songs. With Meelah on lead, Jealousy is really about sadness. It’s about disappointment. Rather than perform the song as written (anger or even denial), Meelah fills the song with a sadness that gives the song emotional resonance it wouldn’t have otherwise. Particularly with the bridge and the final adlibs, Meelah slowly, artfully breaks down. And when the song just ends, you know there is so much left there.
Michel’le is one of the great forgotten singers of the New Jack Swing era. Her Anita Baker meets Cherrelle style immediately sounded dated when her second album, Hung Jury, appeared in 1998 after having been shelved for a few years. It’s a pity because if you get past the fact that it does sound like a throwback to a bygone era, you get to enjoy a first-rate vocalist exercising a lot of pain (she dated both Suge and Dre) and making some terrific music.
Everyone remembers Michel’le for her beautiful ballad, Something In My Heart, from her debut album. Wasted My Tyme is more reminiscent of her other work, Nicety and No More Lies, but is a much more tightly structured work. The track definitely knocks (with a sample from Public Enemy, that’s no surprise), but the melody drives the song. You immediately start singing along.
Lucy Pearl was chock full of gems, but for my money, Can't Stand Your Mother is the best song on the album. It's the song that makes the best use of Dawn's ability to be sassy as hell and still be totally convincing and totally compelling. Oh, and this joint knocks hard.
The interplay between her and Raphael is terrific, especially over the bridge. The bridge is actually what makes the song so memorable. What sounds like a crowd instigating a school yard fight gives the song a different kind of energy that kicks it up a notch. This would have been a terrific single and video.