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A mainstream-ified version of a talented musician's album
on June 13, 2010
Taio Cruz, a British producer and songwriter turned singer/rapper (a la Timbaland), has been responsible for a large quantity of irresistible electro-pop/R&B confections since 2008, and several of them are cobbled together here on the U.S. edition of his overall second album, `Rokstarr.'
What's amusing is that minus the #1 single "Break Your Heart," follow-up "Dirty Picture," "No Other One," "Feel Again" and "Falling In Love," not a single one of the other five tracks from the original UK version of `Rokstarr' made the tracklisting here. This is moderately understandable, since the original album wasn't all that exciting, save its singles, all of which are included on the U.S. release. Several tracks here are in fact from his debut, `Departure,' which was actually a great album, but was unfortunately never released in the states.
UK smash and U.S. breakout "Break Your Heart" deserves its success; it's a pounding, pulsating dance romp with an infectious chorus, whose U.S. version benefits from the almost-always-enjoyable Ludacris verse. On the original album, nothing else rocked quite as hard, but thankfully "Dynamite," an all-new U.S. exclusive track, comes close. This joyful and heavily danceable thumper tweaks and twerks along to the electro-noises found frequently throughout Ke$ha's album.
The aforementioned electro-pop tart also just happens to make a notable contribution to "Dirty Picture," the album's second single and heaviest nod to pure electronica. "Take Me Back" was originally a highly successful collaboration with rapper Tinchy Stryder in the UK, but on the U.S. edition of `Rokstarr,' it appears as a solo cut, featuring just Taio Cruz's vocals. Although it more or less still serves its function in this form, without Stryder's rap verses it loses much of its personality and zest.
This is a particularly unfortunate sacrifice due to the fact that lack of personality is present throughout quite a bit of the album; one may think that including nothing but cherry-picked hit singles on an overseas debut would equal an immediate triumph, but much of Taio's U.S. debut so blatantly caters to the whims of mainstream radio that it's hard to appreciate as an actual album. Cruz gradually becomes faceless beneath the surge of big, repetitive, simplistic hooks, and although they're cater-made for the new-age MTV generation, it becomes increasingly difficult to form any sort of artistic impression of Cruz himself.
The notable exceptions are where he slows things down; Taio Cruz's early releases benefited from exuding a trademark emotive, melancholic vulnerability, which initially really made him stand out in the R&B/pop scene. Sadly, the two most pristine examples of this, his first singles "I Just Wanna Know" and "Moving On," are both absent on `Rokstarr.' This really robs U.S. listeners of the opportunity to hear the gentler (and generally more captivating) aspects of Cruz's musical artistry.
Thankfully, the states are at least treated to "I'll Never Love Again," with its dreamlike synths and lush vocals, another example of what Taio Cruz was like before he decided to become a rokstarr. Another U.S. exclusive, the smooth house beats of "Higher" don't feel quite as coldly calculative as some of the other upbeat tracks, and the sincerely uplifting "I Can Be," released as a single with Estelle in the UK, is another notable keeper. The skittering, spastic "Come On Girl" is a major grower, but once its appeal sinks in, it's hard to resist. Luciana Caporaso contributes a delectable verse to the song, and it's charismatic enough to warrant listeners wanting more; her sassy `come on boy, come on boy!'s reveal a saucy, energetic boy-girl lyrical play that could have been.
"No Other One" is hooky but generic and doesn't stray from the album's straightforward electro-R&B formula, but things take a sweeter, more acoustic turn with "Falling In Love" and "Feel Again," two ballads which end the album on a sentimental note. The former rides a swift, catchy piano loop and eventually breaks into live instrumentation, differentiating heavily from much of the rest of the album, while the latter doesn't manage to hold interest for quite as long.
For better or for worse, `Rokstarr' lives up to its name-it's guiltily pleasurable, caters to the general public in a broadened, generic sense while still maintaining a sloppy sense of self-indulgence, celebrates both modern-day bling culture and being unabashedly yet routinely in love, and has some noticeable nosedives right alongside its brightest triumphs. It's by no means a bad pop album, and having heard a large majority of Taio Cruz's catalogue in its entirety, I know for a fact he has a much-deserved place in the U.S. music scene. Whether or not that place is utilized to its fullest within the tracks of this album, however, is debatable.