Michelle Williams - Unexpected

Posted October 16, 2008

You want unexpected? I’ll give you unexpected. The year was 2002 and Michelle Williams, the...

Unexpected Album Review

You want unexpected? I’ll give you unexpected. The year was 2002 and Michelle Williams, the third member of the highest selling girl group of all time, decided to put out a solo album. No big shock there, her Destiny’s Child compatriots Beyonce and Kelly Rowland were planning to do the same and it seemed only natural that Michelle would want in on the solo action. No, the unexpected twist was that instead of taking the easy road to R&B success she chose to put out a gospel album, and a damn good one. In retrospect it was a brilliant move: Michelle couldn’t have matched Beyonce and Kelly’s vocal and physical gyrations, so instead she focused on establishing her own unique musical identity, plus it never hurts to make God happy. That wise move guaranteed that long after DC’s inevitable break-up, Michelle Williams would continue to be known as Michelle Williams, not “that girl who was in that group with Beyonce.”

That brings us to 2008 and another turn in the Michelle Willaims story. Four years after the release of her second gospel album, the sweet-singing Williams is back on the national scene with her third album Unexpected. It’s not shocking that she uses Unexpected to try to reconnect with her more mainstream fans, but what is strange is the manner in which she tries to do it. Now I don’t have official statistics on this, but I’m going to go ahead and call Unexpected the most techno-ish album released by a gospel artist...ever. Unexpected is a heavily produced affair that at times has more in common with European house music than contemporary R&B, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you do it well. Unfortunately, all the talented Ms. Williams has created is an unexpectedly mediocre album. (That will be the last “unexpected” pun, I promise).

If Williams is still attending Sunday church services then she must have trouble staying awake through the sermons, considering the amount of Saturday night partying she’s apparently doing. Unexpected jumps off with the pulsating We Break The Dawn, an ode to late nights and early mornings spent in sweat-soaked clubs. It’s a perfectly enjoyable track, so much so that Williams decided to double up, including a ceaselessly energetic remix on the album that includes Flo-Rida (whose 15 minutes of fame has about 2 minutes left). It’s hard to figure out what audience Williams was aiming for when she wrote We Break The Dawn, they’re equal parts house music, pop and R&B, placing Williams in strangely uncharted musical waters. On the other end of the energy spectrum is The Greatest, a softly marching track that could have been at home on Williams’ gospel albums, except she’s proclaiming her love for her man, not Jesus. Greatest allows Williams effortlessly bright charisma and personality to shine, though the overall effect feels clouded by an overly complex chorus. Tracks like these – plus the deceptively acoustic Thank U – won’t make Williams a household name, but they should find her a place on radio waves across the country. Mission accomplished.

Fans who only heard We Break The Dawn and The Greatest might easily believe that Unexpected is your typical pop/r&b album, but over the course of the album tracks like those prove to be much more the exception than the rule. Just take Hello Heartbreak, the electronically drenched track that leads off the album. Heartbreak’s beat is a “beat” in the most literal sense, pulsing with the same basic bass kicks and synths lines for its entirety. What’s more, Williams voice is so thoroughly over-produced she almost disappears into the track. I’ll readily admit that I just can’t feel electronic music, and whoever first said that drum machines don’t have souls must have been talking about tracks like Heartbreak. Unfortunately, it’s the same story throughout a significant portion of the album. From the hypnotic title track Unexpected to the listless Till The End Of The World, Unexpected feels almost inhuman at times, relying more on computer software than its most precious human asset – Michelle Williams herself. Still, in the end it’s not the overtly club flavor that drags down the album, it’s simply knowing that the soulful Williams is capable of so much more. Breaking expectations can be a great thing, just make sure you’re not breaking yourself in the process.

DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins

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Posted October 16, 2008
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