Jordin Sparks - Battlefield (2009)

Jordin Sparks
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Let's start off with the admission that I'm too male and way too old to be in Jordin Sparks' demographic, so there is no way I will ever appreciate her perky mix of pop and R&B to the same extent as, say, my 12 year old daughter.  That being said, it was tough two years ago not to be taken with the toothy, immensely likeable 17 year old whose cover of "I (Who Have Nothing)" and dramatic growth over the final two months of competition catapulted her from an afterthought to the easy winner of American Idol Season Six.  She took that instant fame and did exactly what she should have with it: she released a very radio friendly debut album that allowed her to play to her teen peers with songs like the catchy "Tattoo" and "No Air," her Grammy nominated smash duet with the pre-radioactive Chris Brown.  That the disc never captured the personality Sparks showed on national television (much of which was buried in that perfect smile) was a minor disappointment, but in the teen g

Let's start off with the admission that I'm too male and way too old to be in Jordin Sparks' demographic, so there is no way I will ever appreciate her perky mix of pop and R&B to the same extent as, say, my 12 year old daughter.  That being said, it was tough two years ago not to be taken with the toothy, immensely likeable 17 year old whose cover of "I (Who Have Nothing)" and dramatic growth over the final two months of competition catapulted her from an afterthought to the easy winner of American Idol Season Six.  She took that instant fame and did exactly what she should have with it: she released a very radio friendly debut album that allowed her to play to her teen peers with songs like the catchy "Tattoo" and "No Air," her Grammy nominated smash duet with the pre-radioactive Chris Brown.  That the disc never captured the personality Sparks showed on national television (much of which was buried in that perfect smile) was a minor disappointment, but in the teen girl singer niche the bar has rarely been very high.

So for her sophomore release, Battlefield, the now 19 year old Ms. Sparks has decided to largely mimic the popular passages of the script from round one, focusing even more narrowly on the tiresome electronic pop sound that dominates teen radio in 2009. Rihanna clearly appears to be the model for much of the album, which boasts a heavy-handed electronic sound that is so generic you half expect the disc to be titled "Acme."  Sparks' voice, while attractive, has never been particularly distinctive on record, and the by-the-numbers production plays to her weakness, effectively demoting her to a virtual background singer on the disc's upbeat tunes. Rihanna's sexy phrasing allows her to make even average material interesting, but Sparks simply doesn't have the chops to do the same. And unfortunately, the bevy of producers here doesn't supply material anywhere near the quality of "No Air," much less at the level of Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad

But Battlefield does have a moderately happy ending. Sparks takes more control of the last third of the disc, which features four self-penned songs: the very enjoyable Rihanna-like "Emergency (911)," on which Sparks sounds refreshingly (and uncharacteristically) flirty, and three ballads ("Was I The One," "The Cure" and especially "Faith") that are quite a departure from the rest of the disc.  The latter are both more traditional and simply a better fit for Sparks -- oh, and they're better songs, too.  At a minimum they give a more personal feel to an otherwise impersonal album.  At best, they give me hope that there is something more out there in Jordin Sparks' future: a developing talent that will allow her to move beyond a telegenic 19-year old producer's tool and into a more complete artist who has a better sense of her sound than all the hitmakers thrown at her by Clive Davis and company.  But for now, her work in the latter part of Battlefield saves it from being a bland, faceless washout...and we'll settle for that. Mildly recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

 

 
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