En Vogue | Electric Café
by Darnell Meyers-Johnson
Don’t call it a comeback; it’s more like a resurgence. Like other girl groups from their era (SWV, Xscape), En Vogue is back on our radar and back with their first studio album in 14 years. Was it worth the wait? We’ll get to that.
First, a brief history for the post-millennials. En Vogue began as the creation of producers/songwriters Denzil Foster & Thomas McElroy. The goal was to find three sisters who could sing their faces off, individually and collectively. They found four: Maxine Jones, Dawn Robinson, Cindy Herron and Terry Ellis.
Their 1990 debut album BORN TO SING was so strong it earned them a Grammy nomination. Their single “Hold On” was Billboard’s Top R&B song of that year. Their follow up album, 1992’s FUNKY DIVAS took them to even greater heights with signature hits like “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” and “Free Your Mind”. Even with Robinson’s departure, the group continued to prosper on 1997’s EV3.
Then the waters got murky with 2000’s ill-themed MASTERPIECE THEATER, Dawn’s return, Dawn’s second departure, Maxine’s departure, lawsuits, name-calling. It got messy, but when the stormed passed Cindy and Terry remained as the legally official “En Vogue” with newest member Rhona Bennett (who also left and returned).
Now that we’re all somewhat caught up, let’s get into their new album Electric Café.
There are certain givens when approaching an En Vogue project. We already know mentors Foster & McElroy will be on deck, the vocals will be soaring and the harmonies tight. The uncertainty comes with song selection. As with all of their albums, there are some duds here, but largely this set doesn’t disappoint.
Among the better tracks is the Ne-Yo penned “Rocket” which updates the ladies’ sound. However, the majority of the album feels like a throwback. For example, the title track is a fun listen reminiscent of The Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance”. “Have A Seat” recalls the sexy teasing of “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)”. And “Love The Way” is a bouncy tune with an 80s synth-pop vibe.
It’s them joints by Dem Jointz that will catch your ear quickly. “Reach 4 Me” reaches for that smooth midtempo R&B audience, practically a steppers tune. “Oceans Deep” dives into your speakers with a thumping beat.
Foster & McElroy came through with a couple of nice ones as well. The encouraging “Blue Skies” and the good vibing “Deja Vu”. Unfortunately, their other contributions, “So Serious” and “Life” suffer from repetition despite powerful and uplifting lyrics.
Fourteen years ago on 2004’s SOUL FLOWER, En Vogue aimed to be current in their sound. This time around, not so much. If you listen without that expectation, you’ll hear a pretty solid effort you will come to enjoy after a few spins.
Favorite tracks: “Reach 4 Me”, “Rocket”, “Oceans Deep”
Least favorite tracks: “So Serious”, “Life”
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Urban Music Scene