Urban Contemporary, 2003
Ruben Studdard proves that sometimes being the winner of American Idol can be the worst thing that can happen to you. Soulful, his debut CD, is a collection of generic mainstream R&B tunes that are neither memorable nor remarkable. This CD is not too bad, actually, but at the same time, it’s not one I’d recommend people to go out and buy either.
The folks behind this CD are on the right track on some tracks. Play Our Song is my favorite – it’s a bouncy and romantic song that manages to be relevant in today’s saturated R&B market as well as brings back pleasant memories of the most romantic R&B tunes of yore. You know, those days when men actually sing instead of rap and carrying a tune isn’t the sole responsibility of some scantily-clad chorus girl in the video. His cover of the Bee Gees’s How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is pure magic: not one note is out of place and the whole song is romanticism personified. Take the Shot is also a pretty good track with great hooks, although listeners more comfortable with Mr Studdard’s PG image on the show will be startled at the words to this track.
Indeed, Mr Studdard’s people seems intent to tearing his family-friendly image down to make him more accessible to listeners more used to the current thuggish lover boy images of male music icons. On Take the Shot, he proclaims himself a player, claiming that while he can take any girl he wants home, he however, needs some loving – it’s a pick-up line as much as any. On What is Sexy, he insists that sexiness comes in all forms so why don’t you ladies line up and test his own brand of sexy. Self-aggrandizing tracks like Can I Get Your Attention and No Ruben see him anointing himself the ultimate ladies man, player, hotshot, and life of the party. The trouble here is that Mr Studdard often fails to project the dangerous and predatory vibe needed to make these songs convincing. His voice is made for slow sensual loving by the fireplace, not wild and meaningless one-night stands in the backseat of a car.
Nonetheless, despite its flaws, Soulful is a surprisingly well-produced CD. Make no mistake, Soulful is not a brilliant CD in any way – tracks like Sorry 2004 sound like something rejected by Usher and the truly horrid covers of Superstar and Flying Without Wings are pure rubbish. But Soulful could easily be much more worse.