Today’s Pop Rescue from a fate unknown, is the 1997 third studio album EV3 by American R&B vocal group En Vogue. Will this album be one that you Don’t Let Go, or is it more Whatever! and move on? Read on….
This 13 track CD opens with the track Whatever written by producer Babyface. This is a wonderful gentle and slick bridge from the sound of previous album Funky Divas. The tempo is swaggering, with a repeated riff throughout that’s balanced by beautiful vocal harmonies and ‘bom bom boms’. This was the album’s second single. The track reached #14 in the UK singles chart, but deserved higher.
That’s followed by lead single Don’t Let Go (Love), which gave them a #5 UK hit in late 1996, and musically I always feel like this song is the closest we’ve got to an En Vogue James Bond theme with it’s descending bass, pianos, and rumbling timpani-esque drums. The track was actually taken from another film – 1996’s Set It Off with Queen Latifah. The track allows En Vogue to show off their own solo and harmony vocals alongside a rockier set of guitars and dramatic musical escalations. It’s a plodder, but expertly formed and delivered. Awkwardly, this was their final single with Dawn Robinson, who also has the lead vocals here, before she left to go solo.
Right Direction follows this, and it seems to drop En Vogue into a kind of warm psuedo-country music style. We’re treated to some lovely percussion at the start as the vocals arrive, allowing for the strummed guitars and bass to layer in alongside them. The song is nice enough, but it does feel a little wasteful of En Vogue’s vocal power.
That’s followed by Damn I Wanna Be Your Lover, which musically seems very reminiscent to Don’t Let Go (Love), except for it being more acoustic. This is a little odd, considering it’s written by a completely different team of writers, and a bit silly to put it so close to that track. Again, it’s a plodder, but the vocal performance builds wonderful with Terry, Maxine and Cindy all putting in a great performance here… it just feels like some kind of cover.
Next is Too Gone, Too Soon which stood as the album’s third and final single, written by songwriter extraordinaire Diane Warren. The song is a gentle R&B/pop ballad, that comes complete with synth strings and some wonderful soaring vocals. The track narrowly gave them another top 20 hit, when it reached #20, but sadly lacks the oomph of earlier En Vogue songs.
That’s followed by You’re All I Need with the drums sampled from Run DMC’s Sucka MC’s, and a load of wah’s that remind me of some kind of Jackson 5 Motown track. The drums and wah wah’s weave throughout, but keep back allowing the focus to remain on the vocals and harmonies. These are heartfelt and the harmonies work particularly well. Still, it seems mostly stuck in neutral, and fails to evolve further.
Let It Flow follows this, and a bass slides in over a slick hand-clap laden R&B beat. The vocal harmonies and powerful solos are straight in, resulting in a wonderful sounding smooth song. It even gives a burst of their last album’s Free Your Mind hit, and lyrical references to ‘funky divas‘, and the song actually sounds like it could have easily been on Funky Divas. The track is pretty chilled out, but probably could have worked well as a single, with the catchy ‘yeah yeah yeah‘ that almost sound like ‘meow meow meow‘. A gentle rap from Jah sits in perfectly in the middle of this chilled out track. It’s a glimmer of an earlier En Vogue.
We’re Sitting By Heaven’s Door next, the first of six tracks by Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy. There’s plenty of R&B 90’s musical tropes here, but the long-held high notes are at least impressive whilst the rest of the track really could have been recorded by anyone.
That’s followed by Love Makes You Do Thangs, and it’s off to a wonderful little piano start that almost makes it feel a little playful. This song feels warm and it’s shuffling style complete with trumpet and layers of instruments works well alongside the vocals of Cindy, Maxine and Terry throughout. There’s almost a quant little 1960’s vibe to this song, despite it being an original.
What A Difference A Day Makes follows that and it gives us some more fun vocals ‘oopie doopie doo‘ vocals in the chorus. The bass is thick and keeps it funky against this simple track, set alongside a simple beat and what sounds like some kind of uncredited sampled track with male vocals. It’s a nice chilled out track.
Sounding like something out of a horror movie, Eyes Of A Child follows this, and you’ll be pleased to know that it is anything but a horror. There are electric guitars that seem to be ready to roar, but they step back to allow gentle warm strummed guitars as En Vogue throw us some ‘doo doo doo‘ and ‘la la la la’ vocals, moralistic lyrics about how some nameless people are making the world bad, sounding not unlike B*Witched. Aptly, the song sounds a little simplistic and childish for the accomplished En Vogue.
Does Anybody Hear Me is next, and this gives us an instant burst of vocal power, gospel style, and you’re reminded that this is where the group’s huge appeal is – and understandably, this track is written by the group and producer Ivan Matias. It’s sung from the heart, and it’s a wonderful reminder of who En Vogue are.
The album closes with the funky guitar of I’ve Got Your Gun. A drum machine soon drops in alongside bass and handclaps. On face value, it’s a song about how En Vogue have acquired a firearm, but it is clearly a sexual innuendo when you hear the rest of the lyrics. It is simple and funky, and the sound is wonderfully crisp and perfectly performed.
Over all, this album is a pretty good example of 1990’s chart R&B.
There’s zero doubting of En Vogue’s ability, even when suddenly reduced by 1/3rd and hastily having to re-record tracks after the late departure of Dawn Robinson just months before this album was released.
The album, weighing in at 13 tracks feels a little long, and some tracks are just on the ‘ok’ side of good – including the very reminiscent Damn I Wanna Be Your Lover, which feels like a bargain cover version on the right side of a copyright ruling. Right Direction and Eyes Of A Child both feel like they should have been for someone else, and don’t particularly play to the group’s strengths, and the shorter album would have been a more comfortable listen.
Whatever and Don’t Let Go (Love) are truly the big hitters here, and rightly saw chart success in the UK, but others like Let It Flow, Love Makes You Do Things, What A Difference A Day Makes, and I’ve Got Your Gun are all worthy too, and could easily have been great candidates for a single.
They might have been reduced in members, but they’re still able to deliver a perfectly enjoyable record, but with the UK well and truly fixated with homegrown three-piece group Eternal, they’re being given a run for their money.