Studdard more idle than 'Idol' on new CD

by Kate Carolan | 1/8/04 6:00am

Ruben Studdard may have won the hearts and votes of millions of television viewers during the second season of "American Idol," but that success has yet to translate to the recording studio. His debut album, "Soulful," has potential, but is too divided and lacks a unifying feel or theme. In an R&B world dominated by R. Kelly, P. Diddy and Maxwell, good vocals and a disjointed album won't save you.

Vocals are important, but not enough to set someone apart from every other smooth jammer out there. It really comes down to the production and the quality of the music, and they just doesn't do enough to distinguish him from all the other R&B artists. Many of the songs wouldn't even make the cut at the dentist's office, much less in an elevator. At least this time around for Studdard, it's likely to be his television fame that sells albums.

Clive Davis, who produced the album and has also worked with such established artists as Whitney Houston, did a fine job piecing together the songs. Still, half the songs feel like they fit Studdard's style, while the other half feel rather estranged and awkward.

The album is an unfortunate blend of good, classically-rooted, soulful R&B and some contemporary stuff that borders on hip hop. It seems that for Studdard, the classically rooted stuff is the way to go, as his slower, less complicated songs are really not so bad.

I fear that Studdard, who sang mostly soul music la his idol, Luther Vandross, on "American Idol," paid too much attention to the little criticism he got for performing soul music on a show that has been traditionally rooted in pop music. It seems like Studdard was desperate to broaden his horizons to include pop music, but it just doesn't fit his image or vocal abilities.

That's not to say the album doesn't have its moments. The first track on the album, "Sorry 2004," is indeed a groove and jive song and one that hits that nerve in all of us -- even those who claim to detest R&B but would never admit their love of R. Kelly outside the safe confines of our own headphones. Most likely though "Sorry 2004" won't go down in the books as a legendary "year song" like Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69", or Prince's "1999."

Studdard's version of Vandross' version of The Carpenters' "Superstar" is a considerably slower song that draws from a lot of the stylistic qualities of older R&B, including the use of some orchestral effects.

His cover of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" is nice because Studdard does have good delivery, and because the song has already been established as a classic R&B ballad, so by keeping close to the original music, Studdard does the song justice and in doing so gives a nice salute to the Brothers Gibb, who wrote it and Al Green who truly made the song famous (and incidentally still sings the better version of it.)

But unfortunately for the so-called "Round Mound of Sound," the bright spots on this album are few and far between. "No Ruben" is utterly unimpressive. In fact, "no, Ruben," is a sufficient response to it.

When Studdard sings of "everywhere I go girls be screaming my name" on "Take the Shot," it's unimpressive because no artist is entitled to speak of until at least his second successful album. Some may make allowances for Studdard's celebrity fanfare garnered through his stint on "American Idol," but I certainly do not. Not after this album, anyway.

As a jazz singer or a soul singer, Studdard would be great, because he really has a good feel and appreciation for the emotion of the music.

But his attempts at a more pop-ish finish on some of the songs? "Idol" or not, I'll take a pass.