Today’s POP RESCUE is the 1992 Funky Divas album by American four-piece group En Vogue, but was this album good, or were you never gonna ‘get it’? Read on…
The album drops us straight into This Is Your Life… with some ‘behind the scenes’ type chatter as the ladies prepare for a performance, before an announcer ushers in the real song here. Once going, it’s a funky upbeat sound, laden with rich vocals and wonderful vocal harmonies. The chorus reminds me a little of Give It, Turn It Loose, which features later. Rightly, the audience roars at the end.
Next up is My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It), which stood as the album’s lead single, and would give them their biggest UK hit single – reaching #4 in the Spring of 1992. From the first ‘ooooh bop!’ right at the start, the sass of this track is perfect, and En Vogue can deliver these catchy lyrics wonderfully with some beautiful harmonies and ranges. The bass is really catchy here too, interspersed with flute and a truly 90s beat. Its swaggering beat and mid-tempo, and the layers of harmonies and defiant vocals (throughout, but especially the break down) expertly deliver a masterpiece!
Hip Hop Lover follows this, opening with the group’s harmonies before switching to a hip hop track with Wayne Jackson rapping, and occasionally sampling a piece of previous track My Lovin’. This track feels much weaker, musically, and almost vocally shy to use En Vogue. It leaves you wondering whose track this is.
This is followed by Free Your Mind, which was the album’s second single as a Double A side with Giving Him Something He Can Feel (which features later). This track is a rock track, with roaring guitars that perfectly duel the powerful vocal performance. As the voice at the start says, this is a song about prejudice, and the lyrics really do demand you Free Your Mind. It must have been amazing when performed live with the stadium drums, the fantastically intricate roaring guitar solo, and the vocal energy. Annoyingly, the track got stuck at #16 in the UK singles chart, and really does deserve a lot more praise.
Beautiful vocal harmonies lead us into Desire. This is a far softer track, with breathy vocals and lighter percussion. Saxophone winds throughout this sultry song while the girls sing ‘come on baby light my fire’. The song drifts along nicely.
Give Him Something He Can Feel follows this, a cover of a Curtis Mayfield track that was released in 1976 by soul legend Aretha Franklin. Whilst it’d always be hard to out-do Aretha, En Vogue are definitely worthy of a credible challenge. With this being the second half of the Double A side second single (with Free Your Mind), it got stuck at #16 on the UK singles chart.
Next up is It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings, which has a wonderful hip hop beat it’s probably closer to the sound that they’d share with Salt ‘n’ Pepa on Whatta Man a few years later.
This is followed by the group practising the harmonies for Yesterday (up next), before leading into Give It Up, Turn It Loose. This was the album’s third single, and criminally stalled at #22 in the UK. This is such a funky track, and definitely deserved far higher.
Now we finally get the teased cover of The Beatles’ hit Yesterday, and this really is an inspired cover version, done in the only way that could possibly be called justice if you were En Vogue. The vocal harmonies here are beautiful, and the 90s beat and piano are thankfully not intrusive. The ladies show off their vocal range and power, alongside their delicate control too. Another masterpiece.
Tinkling piano and a gentle beat brings us in to Hooked On Your Love, another Curtis Mayfield track for Aretha Franklin. This is quite a nice version, and a better track than Giving Him Something He Can Feel. The brass section helps to give this song weight.
Love Don’t Love You is up next, and as usual, the vocals are beautiful, and sit perfectly alongside the beats and bassline. This song would give En Vogue their 4th and final single from the album, but sadly it flopped in the UK singles chart, scraping in at #64 for some reason. This is a crime which deserves a public inquiry. It’s brilliant.
Penultimate track What Is Love follows this, and we’re treated briefly to some samples of their debut hit Hold On, before launching proper into this funky 90’s marathon. There are parts of this song that remind me a bit of Deee-Lite’s What Is Love?, pieces of Madonna‘s ‘Vogue’, Ce Ce Peniston and Kym Sims. The vocals really belt out here, and at times, it doesn’t sound very much like En Vogue amongst all the spoken word sections, and sampled bits.
The album closes with a wave of synths as we lead into Thanks/Prayer. And just as you think the track is about to take off, it’s done.
This album is a fantastic collection of tracks, as is almost as fresh as it sounded back in 1992 when I used to borrow it repeatedly from my local library.
As we’ve come to expect from En Vogue, the vocal harmonies are beautifully flawless, set among powerful lyrics and slick production. It’s unsurprising that this is their most successful album, but it was still robbed of a #1 position, and some of the singles were vastly under-appreciated.
The early 1990s style does stand out a bit now in places, but the timeless beauty of the vocals and songwriting really does make this album a wonderful joy to the ears. Free your mind, and put this album in it.
- POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1992 UK ALBUM CHART POSITION: #4, certified Gold by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a British Heart Foundation store.