Compositions,' Anita Baker's fourth solo album, might better have been titled Contradictions. How can a singer as accomplished, talented and inquisitive as Baker make an album as relentlessly predictable as this one?
Baker is without a doubt one of the most talented singers on the contemporary music scene. Like Marvin Gaye before her, she is a jazz artist masquerading as a pop singer. Her attention to detail, constant probing of melodies and the seemingly endless variety of approaches she brings to each phrase gives her vocal performances genuine depth. Baker owes much to the late jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, whose throaty, full-bodied style is echoed in her own. But give Baker credit: Her no-nonsense style is devoid of the heavy affect that marred much of Vaughan's work.
If Baker is potentially a singer for the ages, Compositions is an attempt to package her for the market of the moment. Unlike Baker's vocals, the arrangements lack identity. With the exception of two mid-tempo pieces, the album hews unfailingly to the "quiet storm" sound print, combining bland ballads and jazz-tinged flourishes to create upscale make-out music.
The rhythm players on most of Compositions keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, bassist Nathan East and drummer Stephen Ferrone are all members of Eric Clapton's touring and recording band. They've never been a defining presence on the guitarist's albums, and they fail to bring any personality to these sessions. Indeed, their hip-but-not-that-hip work on Compositions is a pointed example of what it takes to become a studio gun.
A singer with as much style as Baker needs strong material, and the songs on Compositions are of mixed quality which is particularly unfortunate because as the title indicates, Baker herself is responsible for most of the songwriting. The two best offerings, "Talk to Me" and "Soul Inspiration," are fine pop-R&B ballads, good enough to guarantee the album's commercial success. But an artist of Anita Baker's abilities should have higher aspirations than that. (RS 584)
(Posted: Aug 9, 1990)
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