Audio reviews 12/26/03

Friday, December 26, 2003

Ruben Studdard, 'Soulful' (J Records)

Clay Aiken appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine first. Aiken's debut album, "Measure of a Man," came out first.

But Aiken was second to Ruben Studdard in the "American Idol" competition as voted on by you, the people still recovering from repetitive stress injury from pressing the redial button on your phone.

Studdard's debut album, "Soulful," proves you made the right choice. Comparing his R&B release with Aiken's poppy disc is, of course, an apples-and-oranges endeavor. But as a whole, I'd rather pop "Soulful" into the CD player, and even listen to a few songs over and over.

You might not recognize Studdard though. No, he hasn't had stomach stapling surgery -- he's still the cuddly teddy bear with the velvety voice you've come to love. But he's undergone what can best be described as an image makeover, from quiet, wholesome Southerner to blinged-out, sexed-up R&B playa.

On the opening track, "Sorry 2004," he apologizes on a month-by-month basis for misdeeds past and future: "All them strip clubs, all them hot tubs, I'm gonna give 'em up, 'cause I don't want to lose your love."

On "What is Sexy" -- and isn't that the slogan on the Victoria's Secret ads? -- he sings: "Love's in the eye of the beholder (sex me) ... Baby we can get closer (freaky) ... Up in the crib come on over."

And on "What If," which resembles "Sorry 2004" with its slow, easy rhythms, Studdard promises, "I'm gonna break you off with the ghetto love." But in the chorus he looks skeptically at the fruits of his instant fame: "What if I was broke? What if I was slim? What if I couldn't sing and I didn't win? (Would you still love me, baby?)"

Studdard also had the foresight to do something Aiken failed to do: He included covers of two of his best songs he sang on "Idol." His version of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" is a refreshingly rich take on the Bee Gees' 1971 hit. And his heartbreaking "Superstar" sounds more like the Luther Vandross 1984 version than the familiar Carpenters' original.

But then "Soulful" ends with two seemingly incongruous bonus tracks. One is the feel-good anthem "Flying Without Wings," the song Studdard sang during the "Idol" finals, and the other is the gospel anthem "We Have Not Forgotten."

Kelis, 'Tasty,' (Star Trak/Arista)

The multi-colored fro may be gone but the brash swagger is not. Featuring one of 2003's most infectious singles, Kelis' "Tasty," her second album, is an urbane romp through left-field soul. The record is aptly titled, with cameos from fiancé Nas and OutKast's Andre 3000.

One could spend an entire review talking about the raw single "Milkshake," that rare song that has appealed to mainstream and underground heads. Although hard to match, some songs come close. The penultimate "Stick Up" comes the closest. Kelis serves the chorus "Put your hands up in the air/ It's a stick up/ I'm a take your heart from here/ Now let's fix up" in a creamy choirgirl voice, coating the sinister beat.

--From wire reports

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