Vivian Green - The Green Room
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There are artists who debut with such freshness and promise that you get giddy at the idea of a lifetime of releases by them, believing they will only grow and blossom that much more with time and experience. Such was the case with Vivian Green in 2002 with her introductory release, A Love Story, and its hit singles “Emotional Rollercoaster” and “Wishful Thinking.” The project coincided with a standout version of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” on the De-Lovely soundtrack and a fan love affair with such cult faves as “What is Love,” “No More Sitting By The Phone,” and “Keep On Going” from A Love Story. Then came a series of head-scratching missed opportunities of utterly forgettable middling fare that started with 2005’s Vivian, extended itself with 2010’s Beautiful, and has culminated in this Ambien alternative otherwise known as The Green Room. This series of heartbreaks for a segment of recovering Vivian Green fans will not be relieved by this latest sharing of what was intended to be reportedly “uplifting, feel-good music.”
I’m not sure how the lyrical lamentations of “Supposed to Be Mine,” “X (featuring Freeway)” and “Anything Out There” meet Green’s own goal of not wanting “any sad songs,” but none of the above quite lets the sunshine in. These torchy melancholias are, admittedly, not the spirit of the project, but one would be hard-pressed to articulate what exactly is the spirit of the project, sans releasing more milquetoast R&B lacking any distinction. That vocal distinction, once the hallmark of Vivian Green’s early work, is lost on “Remedy,” a cut where Green does her best impression of R&B singer Brandy, and leaves listeners wanting more, well, Brandy. The synthy “Anything Out There” exerts so much effort trying to squeeze itself into an urban AC format, you’d be forgiven for believing you’d witness a size 12 trying to shoehorn its way into a size six. “By a string/By a string/You keep me hanging on” from “X (featuring Freeway)” could aptly describe the experience of fans waiting to be moved by something on the front half of this project.
Anticipating the frustrated listeners’ anxious shift in mood, by track four we get something approximating an emotionally resonating performance, riding over a track that actually has some sense of movement. That it comes on a lyrics as cliché as “baby, I just gotta be free to fly away” and “free as a bird/free as my word” is beside the point; at least Green as singing as if she actually cares about the message of the obviously titled “Free as a Bird.”
Foolishly believing the goal of hooking you back on that string has been accomplished, Green and her collaborators roll out more cardboard chewing flavors by way of “I’m Not Prepared,” “Supposed To Be Mine,” “Heaven” and “Still Here” (feat Brian Culbertson). At this time I would like to thank the producer of the ‘90s smooth soul of “Forever” for reminding me of the shimmering bell tree and the finger snap as percussion; these production tropes were terribly missed after a decade of overuse. Thanks for bringing bell trees back.
No, seriously, despite this critic’s jagged tone, none of these songs are particularly bad. They just all are either trying desperately to be young and hip like “Heaven” or they are melodramatically pretty but incredibly dated like “Supposed To Be Mine,” and not in a timeless way.
Luckily, for us and this album, Green understands what many a singing show competition contestant knows to be true: all can be forgiven if you finish big. Inexplicably, the sandpaper vocals, trite songs, snooze-inducing arrangements, and phoned-in emotionality disappear, and a handful of songs emerge to make all the difference. The gospel cut “Light The Universe (featuring Algebra Blessett, Treena Ferebee, Laurin Talese and Leah Smith)” is a tour de force in everything that Green thought this whole album was intended to be: uplifting, inspiring, beautiful, and brilliantly sung by every single lady on the track. “Light The Universe” stands tall with collaborative empowerment anthems like “Sisters” on Angie Stone’s Rich Girl and “Sisterfriend” from the recent R&B Divas album as “must-haves” for any lover of amazing voices. Not to be outdone by the ladies on “Light The Universe,” Green shores that cut up with another powerful vocal of confidence in “Faith,” resurrecting the sinewy instrument we’ve been dying to hear since writer/producer Eric Roberson first got hold of it and produced the hits that made Vivian Green an artist to watch some ten years ago. “Faith” is such a singularly strong vocal and lyric, one can’t help wonder why co-writer/producer Adam Blackstone couldn’t have been tapped to collaborate with Green for the whole of this project.
Coupled with very strong performances on the mid-tempo ballads “When Can I See You Again” and “Free as a Bird,” the album’s closing tracks redeem this album from being considered a rival of Tamia’s Beautiful Surprise for the mantle of 2012’s most boring. For an artist who once seemed destined for greatness, there are no bragging rights for coming close but no cigar for such a dispiriting distinction. Mildly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson