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Sunday, February 10, 2008

En Vogue: "Funky Divas"

The year was 1994 and I'd just gotten my very first cd player for Christmas. Not the super trendy ones that are available now, but the big, black, bulky, one disc cd player of the early 90's. Along with my cd player, came four cds that my mom had chosen for me. Two of them were from the Christian artists Michael W. Smith (boo) and Amy Grant (boo). Also accompanying them were the 10,000 Maniacs (a group fronted by Natalie Merchant) and you guessed it...En Vogue's Funky Divas. I can't tell you how many times I played several of their songs, and on repeat at that. I know that En Vogue is not your typical first musical choice, but in sticking with the purpose of Retro Reviews, I decided to choose an album that was hugely popular in the early 90's. Will it hold up today? I highly doubt it...

The first track on the album, "This is Your Life", opens with En Vogue engaging in a "pre-concert", open dialect about make-up, warm-ups, prayers, earrings, and some guy named Nelson, who we can only assume is their manager. Now while my thought is that they were attempting to open up with a backstage feel, it drags on for a little over a minute, before they ever begin to sing. Once they begin the actual song, you can tell that they are four women who have the ability to blend well, but beyond that, this song has no value. The lyrics are about dreams and keeping them alive; quite cheesie in the delivery. Musically this song is boring. When listening to the melodic lines, you not only realize that En Vogue sounds better as a whole than in their individual solos, but they are often a little bit off pitch (an issue I'll touch on a bit later).

The second track, "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" is actually really fun. While definitely dated by 90's R&B, it still holds up as being entertaining, but also really singable. When first putting this album into my cd player, I realized not only did I remember all the words to this track, but also EVERY melody in the track. It's a good song. The lyrics deal with some "scrub" guy who keeps screwing up, making false promises, and refusing to change. The lyrics are not only appropriate in content, but easily understandable without being too understated. At one point, a little over midway through the song, one of the ladies adlibs a little speaking line that is absolutely hilarious to listen to. She states, "Whoo, yes sir, I give to the needy, and not the greedy...mmm hmm that's right. Cause you see baby...when you like it, you lose it...and I'm out the dauw (door)". Genius! It's great fun listening and singing along with from start to finish. While it likely wouldn't be played on any hit station today, it has stood the course as a great pop song.

"Hip Hop Lover" is stupid at best. It begins with the lyrics, "Hip hop, do it 'til you drop. Don't Stop, don't you ever stop". Don't worry it gets even more lame... Where you'd expect En Vogue to start singing, you get some goofy rapper who raps something about going the "country mile" to see En Vogue. While the rest of the song features only the ladies singing, it could really feature the sound of rotting vegetables and probably be more entertaining. The best I can figure, the song is about some young guy that she meets in a club, has a bad first impression of, then ends up really likely him. It's lyrically and musically repetitive with absolutely NOTHING interesting happening. You'll likely skip over this track.

The next track is probably the best one on the album with only 1 complaint. "Free Your Mind" really put this album on the map with its distinctive rock, bad ass, empowerment feel. In this track En Vogue is rightfully pissed off about racial stereotypes and prejudices related to African-American women. The lyrics are amusing and enjoyable. The song begins, "Prejudice, wrote a song about it, like to hear it, here it go". They proceed, "I wear tight clothing, high heel shoes, it really doesn't mean that I'm a prostitute. I like rap music, wear hip hop clothes, it doesn't mean that I'm out selling dope". While being read, the lyrics appear mediocre, but they are well performed in the track. "Free Your Mind" goes on to list stereotype after stereotype and then eventually states, "Free your mind, and the rest will follow. Be colorblind, don't be so shallow". Like "My Lovin'", "Free Your Mind" is pure entertainment from start to finish. Great to sing along to and musically interesting, both vocally and instrumentally. The one exception to this song is pitch (something you may not notice at a lower volume). At times, the pitches seem to be completely off to my ear. An example would be, after each vocal phrase in the chorus, it seems that the guitar is playing its solo in a different key. It's likely that there's an off pitch harmony there, but this happens a few other times in the song. Listen carefully and you'll hear them too. Other than that, this song is still a good track to listen to, sing with, and remenise about.

Not much to say about "Desire" except only that it reminds me of that awkward feeling you have when you were younger and searching for something to watch after 10pm and you'd come accross a dirty Showtime's likened to cheap porn music. This song makes me feel dirty and I'm not a big fan of it. There's a lot of saxophone interludes, and a steady beat that's injected with a bit of heavy breathing. Seriously repetitive in several lyrics like "oom baby, oom baby, oom baby, oom baby, etc..." and a chorus made up of "Desire, ooh like fi-ya" (fire). Really pretty bad. You should go pray after this song. The next song, while also sexual in nature is a really good track. It's titled, "Giving Him Something He Can Feel". Orginally sung by Aretha Franklin, this song is an excellent cover that's very well performed. It's slow and understandably mellow. It works to their advantage as it gives them multiple opportunities to show off their vocals. The lyrics...well, judging by the title of the track, I'd think it would be pretty self explanitory.

The seventh track on this album is "It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Lady Sings", and after the first 10 seconds of this song, you almost wish she would. It opens with a sung version of the title followed by a terrible female rap that would make any early 90's rap fan want to slap her in the face. It's got a beat that's similar to that of the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire" theme. Since the majority of this song (meaning 95%) is rapped, and terribly done at that, there is not much more to this song than pure mediocrity. "Give It Up Turn It Loose" begins with an ad-libbed conversation between the ladies who are discussing men who "aren't good enough". Much like the first track on the album, this conversation lasts a bit too long at 55 seconds. When the conversation finally ends and the ladies begin to sing, it's only okay. This song reminds me of music that you hear when you're shopping at Dillard's. It's not terrible but it's not great; it's just there. It's R&B, but light and cheery sounding. The best part of this song is the chorus where they simply say, "Give it up turn it loose". Not because of the words, but it's the only time where En Vogue seems to be making an effort to sing as a group instead of solo-ing it. The individual solos in this song are not great because they're highly exposive of vocal imperfections, particularly dealing with pitch. You may find yourself skipping over this song as well.

Yet another cover of The Beatles' "Yesterday" is born... and it's not the best one. While it's not completely bad, it's far from good. It's climactic, but in all the wrong places. En Vogue chooses to do a lot of melodic vocal tricks in this song, which doesn't work to their advantage because of the simplicity of the original. Not to mention, this song has a distinctive early 90's beat to it which seems weird and awkward in this particular song. It's hard to consider this a note worthy cover after hearing an R&B cover like that of Boyz II Men, probably one of the most awesome covers of this song ever. "Yesterday" is not one of the worst songs on this album, and in all honesty, you may not only listen to it, but find yourself singing along to it, though it won't likely be your favorite. "Hooked On Your Love","Love Don't Love You", and "What is Love" are not only all bad, they're seriously redundant in theme (stating the obvious, judging the titles). Until I listened this album a week ago, I didn't remember ever hearing these songs. They are not only forgettable, but they're don't have any catchy elements to them. Not in the chorus, not in the vocal melodies, not in the instrumentation/beats...nada. It's important to draw the listener in within the first 30 seconds and that's something that all three of these songs fail to capture. I would advise you to listen to all three of them at least once to form your own opinion about them, but I'd be highly surprised if you recall anything about them afterwards. The last song on the album is titled, "Thanks (Prayer)" and is exactly what it claims to be; a prayer with some music. It's a factor that is emensely prevelant as either a beginning or ending track in R&B and Hip Hop. It's nice to pay tribute to your creator, but at least do him some justice and give him a musical masterpiece...your best; this track is hardly what I'd call decent.

In not so few words, its always nice to reexamine what you once thought was the best of the best. Funky Divas was one of my favorite albums when I was younger. Now that I'm much older and a bit more musical in ability, interpretation and preference, I realize that this album is not only extremely medicore, it's downright boring to listen to, with the exceptions of "My Lovin'" and "Free Your Mind". I'd almost venture to say it's bad. If you've always wanted to listen to this album, you should. If you own it, give it another listen. If you never want to listen to it again, I shant blame you.

Key Tracks:
1. My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)
2. Free Your Mind
3. Giving Him Something He Can Feel

3 out of 10 stars

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really love this writer's perspective on this album. I too had this cd and I have recently started listening to it again. I couldn't agree more with this writer's thoughts on this work. It's amazing how you listen to something so long ago, and it's incredible. Then you listen to it a decade later and it's noise. Nice job!