Don Ignacio's Music Reviews (Capsule)
List of "A" Artists
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Forever Your Girl (1988) ★ ★
Janet Jackson for Kindergartners. Paula wasn't as sexual, so moms from the Midwest didn't have to worry (so much) about it turning their daughters into prostitutes or their sons losing their innocence. She was a top-tier choreographer, but her singing chops were so-so. Not anything a little digital enhancement couldn't fix. The pop hooks were also so-so, but the songs themselves only tell half the story. Abdul's tight and kinetic dance energy and sultry facial expressions right out of film-noir gave her a pretty unique image for MTV. The style of music is New Jack Swing--characterized by super-slick synth-bass, loud drum machines, neutered electric guitar. I grew up with this sound, so I admit, I find the whole thing precious. The drawback is there isn't much variety to the album--pretty much all the songs are described this way, apart from the occasional vacuous ballad. The songs usually lack a chorus, which I usually think of as a flaw, but I suppose we can't expect kids at the club to adjust their moves every 30 seconds to accommodate a chorus. The songs I like the most are "Opposites Attract" and "Cold Hearted." I'd characterize those as somewhat infectious. "Straight Up" has the coolest music video of them all--filmed in black-and-white, giving us nothing but unfettered images of her moves.
Shut Up and Dance (1990) ★
The purpose of remix albums evade me because I'm a dork who listens to music in my basement and not about to time travel to 1990 to hang out in dance clubs. As it stands, all I can do is listen to the songs. As lackluster as they were in their original forms, the remixes not only fail to breathe new life into them, but they can be more irritating. The running times extended, the familiar New Jack Swing rhythms adorned with techno loops, even larger drum hits. There are occasionally awkward starts and stops. No thanks.
Spellbound (1991) ★ ★ ★
Better songs, better variety, better arrangements. Not better sales, but it still went to a not-too-shabby triple platinum. The dance songs are in the flashy techno-pop vein of Madonna's "Vogue," which I prefer to the plain, monotonous tones of New Jack Swing. "Vibeology" is the best of them with a busy, catchy bass-line, lots of swing-style horns, and quirky vocal samples . . . particularly those goofy operatic refrains. The song's fun enough for me to take to a funky '90s fashion show, if only I was someone who would go to that. "Spellbound," another definitive highlight, sounds like something out of Michael Jackson's Dangerous, and it's catchy like one. Other dance tracks do pretty well. "Rock House," "U," and "The Promise of a New Day." "U" was provided by His Purple Majesty, which is a shame because it doesn't hold a candle to "Vibeology" or "Spellbound." A song I weirdly find myself loving is, of all things, faux-tropical: "Alright Tonight." It's just so fun and sunny. Like I'm a kid again and having the time of my life at a water park. The worst thing I can say about the song is it sounds like Cyndi Lauper, which makes me far too aware that Cyndi would have sung it better. Another excellent moment I'm not supposed to like is the radio ballad "Rush, Rush." It's one of those smooth synthesizer ballads that tend to do to my brain what ExLax does to my digestive system. But what can I say? I like it. It has a pretty melody. I like hearing Paula sing it. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. I'm getting old in my soft age.
Head Over Heels (1995) ★ ★
I like Abdul's seductive tone in her vocals, which suits her far better than her usual chest whoops. However, the songwriting and creativity in the mixing I enjoyed in Spellbound is sorely lacking, and this ends up just sounding like a standard pop album from 1995. But if you feel like listening to just one track, a very nice moment is "My Love is For Real," a thick, Middle East influenced bit of dance-pop that draws me in. The vocal melody isn't that great, but her misty delivery nonetheless suits its mood. A few songs here are kinds of '90s R&B updates to '30s swing songs. I like the idea, but "My Love is For Real" and the deceptively titled "Ho Down" just don't inspire me much. "Under the Influence" starts out promisingly--like a '60s psychedelic tune but quickly turns into an acceptable albeit forgettable Madonna-esque pop track. So while I'd say this album doesn't do anything to offend me, it also doesn't do much to delight me. And that leaves Paula Abdul's third and final album a regrettably ho-hum puttering out.
Greatest Hits (2000) ★ ★
All the Paula the average person needs (if anything!) is contained within the first six tracks of this greatest hits compilation. "Straight Up," "Cold Hearted," "Forever Your Girl," "(It's Just) The Way That You Love Me," "Knocked Out," and "Opposites Attract." She also made the wise decision to include "Vibeology." Otherwise, we have non-album singles "Bend Time 'Round" and "Crazy Love" which have beats you can dance to (naturally), but I'm all about worn out.
Greatest Hits: Straight Up! (2007) ★ ★ ½
Heck! Paula Abdul had released a greatest hits album seven years before this, and her recorded output since then had been nil. The world needed another Greatest Hits record like the world needed a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But those of us who have a rudimentary understanding of '00s pop culture know that Abdul had a career resurgence not on the radio but on the television. In other words, this was a shameless cash-in on her popularity as a judge on American Idol. But if you want advice about what greatest hits album to listen to, make it this one because it has two more songs on it (including the Top 20 hit "Will You Marry Me").
All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.