Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): R&B, Adult Contemporary R&B, Contemporary R&B
At the 2013 Soul Train Awards, Jennifer Hudson sang "I Can't Describe," the first single from her third album, which was ten months away from being released. Produced and written by Pharrell Williams, the song could pass for a synthesizer-less cover of a bounding early-'80s post-disco jam created by Kashif and his associates for Melba Moore or Evelyn King. For the Soul Train performance, Hudson was joined by King and Chaka Khan (as well as guest rapper T.
American Idol finalist, Oscar-winning actress, guest vocalist for everyone from David Guetta to Meat Loaf – Jennifer Hudson is a hugely gifted singer who has, nonetheless, never established much of a musical identity. That should change with her third album, a time warp that reinvents the late Seventies à la Daft Punk. The modern R&B-as-disco-as-house thing is very well-trod territory (Kelis, Diddy-Dirty Money, Robin Thicke), but only Hudson has the range to recall the brassy melismata of Thelma Houston (''It's Your World''), the siren wail of Gloria Gaynor (''He Ain’t Goin' Nowhere'') and the spirals of CeCe Peniston (''I Still Love You'') on one LP.
For her third album Jennifer Hudson’s voice is a thrilling thing set in a workaday, loosely 70s-inspired “urban” blot of backing. There are highs – a belting gospel-house duet with fellow US midwesterner R Kelly, and an album closer with a Whitney-tight grip on the heartstrings, written for her murdered mother. (There are lows too – Iggy Azalea features.) There’s always a gooey pleasure to hearing her sing, but you’d hope someone launched through gospel to the American Idol finals and an Oscar win might find better material in an R&B world thundering with great songwriters.
Barring some major transformation, Jennifer Hudson will forever be on the verge of tearing the roof off with her volcanic instrument—a role that allows for little artistic flexibility, or for the subtleties that make for compelling recorded music. Her muscular, sometimes metallic timbre automatically associates her with the deep-soul tradition, but unlike the best of her forebears, there's nothing emotionally revealing about her performances: Both on and off record, she's remained affable but strangely detached. With the aid of ever-clueless svengali Clive Davis, Hudson's attempts to find a place for herself in today's R&B market have yielded a consistently dull discography, one that seems targeted at an adult-contemporary audience that prefers its divas bloodless and buttoned-up.
Welcome to the music industry’s Super Tuesday. Today marks the start of the fall rush, when record companies open the floodgates, setting a pace of releases that won't cease until the last leaves drop. This year’s crop offers a veritable autumnal cornucopia, including Lady Gaga’s tete-a-tete ….