April 2, 2018 En Vogue – Electric Café (Album Review)
When it comes to all-female R&B/Pop vocal groups, En Vogue carry the trophy for superbly lush harmonies, deliciously crisp talents, and a fashion-forward, high-heeled kick to the eardrums. There is no messing with these funky divas, and after fourteen long years, the ladies return on April 6, 2018, with Electric Café thanks to eOne.
Originally conceived as the brainchild of Producers Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy – known for their work with Tony! Toni! Tone!, Club Nouveau, and many more – En Vogue formed in Oakland, California in 1989. The group’s original lineup – Terry Ellis, Dawn Robinson, Cindy Herron, and Maxine Jones – was not some ‘girl group’ to simply write-off: they combined fierce grit and feminine power with infectiously seductive vocal harmonies. They were born for success, and the ladies immediately skyrocketed up the charts with their debut album, Born To Sing. Five more albums – from 1992’s groundbreaking, chart-topping Funky Divas to 2004’s Soul Flower – would follow over the next twelve years.
Throughout their career, to date, the group has sold over 20 million records worldwide and have amassed an impressive collection of awards and accolades, ranging from Soul Train Awards to Grammys. In December 1999, Billboard Magazine ranked the ladies as the #19th Most Successful Recording Artist of the 1990s. In March 2015, Billboard would add to this and name the group the 9th Most Successful Girl Group of All-Time.
When your name is synonymous with awe-inspiring talent, your legacy never dies out. Now, some fourteen years after the release of their last studio offering, En Vogue – Cindy Herron-Braggs, Terry Ellis, and Rhona Bennett – are back at it again and ready to reclaim their throne. Their sixth studio album (not including 2002’s The Gift of Christmas), Electric Café is a 12-song offering that sees the ladies experimenting and searching for their 2018 sound. Working with a bevy of producers – from their usual collaborators Foster & McElroy to Raphael Saadiq (Whitney Houston, John Legend), Ne-Yo (Beyonce, Rihanna), Dem Jointz (Christina Aguilera, Rihanna), and Curtis “Sauce” Wilson (Drake, Ne-Yo) – En Vogue offer up a collection that cements their triumphant return and paves the way for a very bright future.
Electric Café begins with a strong beat that sets the pace for “Blue Skies,” where crisp vocals dance alongside electronic atmospherics to promise that if you can weather the storm, everything will be a-okay. They go for sultry vocal wine on the sassy swing of “Déjà Vu” before tackling their first single/video, “Rocket,” chock full of interplanetary metaphors that display an undying love for a man who is truly out of this world.
The jazzy snap of “Reach 4 Me” moves the ladies into album namesake, “Electric Café,” a distorted funk attack of electrified proportions with some delicious bass-lines. Making the most of this gift, “Life” sees the ladies delivering those luscious harmonies while weaving a lesson or two into the entire production, which sets a heartbeat’s pace. Here, all is as it should be, with the sonics largely taking a backseat to the lady’s gorgeous voices. Meanwhile, the steady pace of “Love The Way” sees ‘80s synths weaving alongside the lady’s vocals, celebrating a delicious love that is so right. Expect a dance remix!
The sultry groove of “Oceans Deep” feels immediately familiar, leading the gals into the sassy hip-shake of “Have a Seat,” which features Snoop Dogg and sees the threesome truly soaring, showing off some frickin’ delicious sass. Next, the trio flirt with themselves and embrace their imperfections on the empowering beat of “I’m Good,” then have a laugh at the idea of this being a man’s world in “So Serious,” a darker, sultrier stomp that is fraught with infectious girl power. They end with a bonus track, a non-rap version of “Have a Seat,” which just means that Snoop has gone back into the doghouse here.
Electric Café plays out like a search for self-identity, a group of ladies who have returned to the studio and are tinkering with all the shiny knobs and searching for what their 2018 sound shall be. Which is not to say that the album is bad, far from it, but those soaring, all-encompassing harmonies are oft mired in electronics and recycled beats taking the focus away from what En Vogue has always been: the voice(s).
There are moments that feel silly (“Electric Café,” that weird baby cry on “Rocket”), and many of the tracks are simply drawn out to show studio tricks and pizzazz that have little to do with the (presumed) En Vogue aesthetic. Of course, there are also gems here, from the soaring “Life” to the fully infectious “Have a Seat,” to the girl power anthem “So Serious.” For the future, hopefully En Vogue will realize where their assets lay and strip away some of the superfluous studio accoutrements. Whatever the case, they will always be divas in our eyes! For these reasons, CrypticRock give En Vogue’s Electric Café 3.5 of 5 stars.