En Vogue - Electric Cafe (2018)

En Vogue
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If eras were defined by girl groups, each one had a distinctive flavor and sound: the Supremes reigned during the 60s, the Emotions emerged in the 70s and the Pointer Sisters lay claim to the 80s. Many still want to debate the impacts of TLC and Destiny's Child in the 90s and beyond, but what can't be disputed is that long before either were a thought, the decade belonged to En Vogue. 

Seen early on as vocalists to showcase the talents of two ambitious producers (Foster & McElroy), Maxine, Dawn, Terry and Cindy were an assembled quartet that quickly became a phenomenon: a hit debut album (1990's Born to Sing), an even bigger sophomore smash (Funky Divas), and personas built on the strengths of four ladies with their own looks and vocal styles that blended with impeccable precision and poise. 

If eras were defined by girl groups, each one had a distinctive flavor and sound: the Supremes reigned during the 60s, the Emotions emerged in the 70s and the Pointer Sisters lay claim to the 80s. Many still want to debate the impacts of TLC and Destiny's Child in the 90s and beyond, but what can't be disputed is that long before either were a thought, the decade belonged to En Vogue. 

Seen early on as vocalists to showcase the talents of two ambitious producers (Foster & McElroy), Maxine, Dawn, Terry and Cindy were an assembled quartet that quickly became a phenomenon: a hit debut album (1990's Born to Sing), an even bigger sophomore smash (Funky Divas), and personas built on the strengths of four ladies with their own looks and vocal styles that blended with impeccable precision and poise. 

Unfortunately, as with many other groups before them, internal and external conflicts, as well as lawsuits (old heads likely still remember that infamous road stint with the late Luther Vandross) and label changes, shuffled the line-ups more than once before they settled into their present-day trip of Terry, Cindy and Rona and created their ambitious and enjoyable latest release, Electric Cafe

In the ways that matter, En Vogue's trademark multiple leads and lush harmonies remain: each vocalist retains her distinct flavor throughout and the production, which includes their original mentors Foster & McElroy, as well as another CA-based vet, the ever-versatile Raphael Saadiq, and newer school performer/producer Ne-Yo. The strongest cuts are when their sound is decidedly urban and funk-infused, kicking off with the optimistic  "Blue Skies,” which chooses a glass-half-full approach after a breakup instead of Netflix binging and tears. “Reach 4 Me” is saucy and coquettish, offering devotion and desire all at once, and Ne-Yo’s “Rocket” is where their harmonies blend with control, yet unfurl  with tenderness: “Darker than I ever seen ya, don’t think I ever felt so small/but darkness never felt so bright, and in your arms it’s hard to feel afraid at all.”

If they aren’t giving praise to another day (“Life”), funking up a firestorm (the title track) or flirting with a stranger that, well, actually might be more than that (the bouncy “Déjà Vu”), they’re flexing Cali street cred with Snoop Dogg on the bell-bottom, apple-hat-ready groove “Have a Seat” and flexing their flyness on the exuberant self-esteem mantra, “I’m Good,” served up with the simmering funk flavor that only Saadiq can provide.

​Depending on your tastes in dance music, the second half of Electric is either just right or entirely too much: not even the sweetest sopranos can absorb the  triteness of "Ocean Deep" and "So Serious." But a few musical missteps won't justify detouring from this fun, fierce and fly Café spot altogether. It's been a long road since 2004's Soul Flower, but fans will find the ladies' skill sets well worth the stop. Highly Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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