All other things being equal, I prefer pop R&B to neo-soul. So when I heard that neo-soul diva Chrisette Michele had sold out on her second album, Epiphany, I was cautiously optimistic. Her first effort, I Am, from 2007, was pretty great, sliding between jazz, funk, and soul, with Michele’s slightly raspy Billie Holiday-esque vocals swinging even the obligatory nostalgia of “Mr. Radio.” Still, amp up the production, add some attitude and some dancefloor beats—that could work, right?
Perhaps it would, but that’s not what Michele and executive producer/songwriter/svengali Ne-Yo are trying here. Instead, we get not Beyoncé but Barbara Streisand. I Am didn’t have even one bloated, bland ballad; Epiphany has three. Of these, “Blame It on Me” is probably the most egregious, with a plodding beat lame enough for country radio, soaring Broadway production, and Michele exchanging her delicate jazzy phrasing for the over-emoting of a by-the-numbers gospel diva.
The uptempo numbers aren’t better. In its bland, self-validating pep, “Playin’ Our Song” is actually reminiscent of Eric Carmen’s execrable “Make Me Lose Control.” On “Porcelain Doll,” Michele’s dexterous singing is flattened by rote doo-wop backing vocals that sound borrowed from a Billy Joel album. “I’m a full-grown woman” she sings on the song’s chorus. How inspirational! Someday we’ll all grow up and embrace the worst schlock of our parent’s generation! Neo-soul may not be my favorite, but I think I prefer it to neo-lite FM.