Real boring soul, that is. In the last 20 years, R&B has been one of the most omnivorous genres around, eagerly consuming —in some cases wholesale — pop, rap, rock, Bollywood, and a long list of etceteras. In the meantime, neo-soul purists have been the elderly relatives with bad digestion, muttering darkly about moral decay and gas pains. Indeed, as R&B has methodically conquered the world, neo-soul fans have longed wistfully for a purer past, when rhythm was rhythm, blues was blues, and musical crossbreeding had not yet whelped its foul and mongrel breed. Never mind that Ray Charles opportunistically appropriated country, or that Prince loved the Beatles, or that R&B acts from the Coasters on up have been all about relentlessly gimmicky pop music. Since when has logic gotten in the way of righteous breast-beating about kids-these-days?
Sunshine Anderson’s sophomore album, “Sunshine at Midnight,” is as good an example of neo-soul’s wrong-headed crotchetiness as any. Sure, it’s listenable enough,. The lyrics are routinely sassy and strong-minded — without ever latching onto a quirky metaphor or inspired detail. The beats, melodies, and production are all professional — without ever turning into memorable songs. Her singing is strong — without being distinctive. There are one or two exciting moment (like the weird pseudo-classical chorus at the beginning of “Trust”), but they’re abandoned quickly, as if Anderson’s worried that the fogies might catch her having fun. This is soul music as cultural museum piece: tasteful, reverent, and ossified. If Wynton Marsalis did a musical interpretation of “Waiting to Exhale,” or Brian Setzer did an Aretha tribute album, this is what it would sound like (well, okay, maybe not *that* bad, but you get the idea.) It’s all yet more evidence that cred can be a millstone, which is why pre-fab, plastic pop R&B clothes-horses like Ashanti, Cassie and Danity Kane consistently make more innovative music than Mary J. Blige or Macy Gray — and, yes, more soulful music,too.
This review first ran in Bitch Magazine a while back.