Marques Houston - Famous

Marques Houston
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I sometimes wonder what problem a singer is trying to hide when he issues an overproduced record: Is it a weak singing voice? Or uninspired and unimaginative lyrics?  Well, Marques Houston doesn’t appear to be trying to obscure either of those issues with the technological excess on Famous, his latest CD.

There is certainly nothing wrong with Houston’s vocals. He sports a buttery soft tenor that easily moves into falsetto range when the moment calls for it. And Houston’s lyrics don’t need to be disguised. The lyrics on “The Way Love Is” are actually pretty good, as they find singer expounding effectively on the highs and lows of relationships. Unfortunately, what the arrangement on “The Way Love Is” obscures are the song’s melody and some pretty tight harmonies.

I sometimes wonder what problem a singer is trying to hide when he issues an overproduced record: Is it a weak singing voice? Or uninspired and unimaginative lyrics?  Well, Marques Houston doesn’t appear to be trying to obscure either of those issues with the technological excess on Famous, his latest CD.

There is certainly nothing wrong with Houston’s vocals. He sports a buttery soft tenor that easily moves into falsetto range when the moment calls for it. And Houston’s lyrics don’t need to be disguised. The lyrics on “The Way Love Is” are actually pretty good, as they find singer expounding effectively on the highs and lows of relationships. Unfortunately, what the arrangement on “The Way Love Is” obscures are the song’s melody and some pretty tight harmonies.

So Houston, a very talented singer and actor, confronts the conundrum faced by many R&B singers seeking to carve out an identity distinct from hip-hop while also benefiting from that genre’s soundtrack-of-a-generation appeal: how do these artists employ contemporary, rap influenced production techniques while not being overwhelmed by them? That is especially difficult for a balladeer such as Houston. Slow jams require the vocalist to make an intimate, “I bleed when you cut me” connection with listeners, and layers of technology can often have the opposite effect.

That's what has happened on cuts such as the aforementioned "The Way Love Is" and "See You." However, Houston manages to find the right balance on several of the 12 tracks onFamous. For example, "Lifetime" benefits from a simple arrangement that provides ample space for the real star of this show - Houston's vocals that display a sweet and honest vulnerability that belies the criticism that contemporary artists don't know how to sing a straight up love song.

"Nothing On You" opens with sparse, percussive programmed drums and finger snaps. The simple beginning allows Houston to draw listeners into a story of how he resists the attraction of a would be rival to his lady. That simple accompaniment expands into a smooth bass line and drifting keyboard as Houston delivers the song's hook.

Houston channels two R&B legends on "Make It Last Forever" and "Only You." The former is a slow grinder that might remind some of DeAngelo's best work. On the song "Only You," Houston joins R&B crooners Robin Thicke and Miguel in looking to Marvin Gaye for inspiration. Houston borrows the intro and some lines from Gaye's "Let's Get It On." Like "Blurred Lines," "Only One" is not a sample, but Houston's comes closer to capturing the spirit of Gaye work, and I think it's a better, more mature and lyrically clever than Thicke's hit song.

Famous captures what's good and problematic about much of R&B music in 2013. The genre and many of its biggest stars often have an identity crisis that leaves them grasping for gimmicks in an attempt to stay relevant. However, no genre captures the many dimensions and complexities of love and relationships better than a talented soul singer with his heart in his hands and a good lyric in his mouth, and Famous satisfies in the instances where Houston remembers that. Moderately Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 
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