I Missed Us (To be released April 17, 2012)
Would you lose respect for me if I unleash my R&B nerdiness and admit that I've been anticipating this album for years?
I've already crowned SWV the best female R&B tandem of all time but it's been 15 years since they've released material as a group. 1997 seems like eons ago and the world of R&B is now a dry, desolate landscape. That's why I'm so glad I Missed Us is so refreshing.
SWV's single "Co-Sign" paints the perfect picture of their comeback - longtime fans will embrace its familiarity, but it doesn't sound like dated relic from their glory days. New fans won't feel alienated.
The album's early tracks are loaded with energy. The girls have a ball dissing their ex on "Do Ya." And "Show Off" shows that the ladies are just as feisty and commanding as they were way back when they dropped hits like "Downtown." Vocally, Taj and Lelee aren't nearly as strong as they were in their prime, which is very evident on "All About You," but Coko's voice is as mighty as it was in the Clinton era. She swoops in to do the heavy lifting on many of the tracks.
SWV's bread and butter has always been ballads. Fear not, when the tracks slow down, that's when this album really picks up. "The Best Years" truly is a throwback, complete with a brief outro so seductive that I wish it was its own song. "Time to Go" and "Keep You Home" also smolder - Coko belts out so much emotion on the former that I swear I saw steam seeping from my laptop. The trio even tackles my favorite Patti LaBelle hit, "If Only You Knew." Wisely, they don't try to match Patti note for note. Instead, they put their own twist on it instead of simply mimicking - more proof that these ladies are veterans of the game.
The album slightly stumbles when SWV steers out of their lane. When the ladies talk about how they're "gonna keep it one hunnid" on "Better Than I" they sound like old folks at career day trying to relate to the kiddies. Those missteps are few and far between, thankfully.
This album truly succeeds when old and new successfully blend. And no other song better signifies that than the title track. "I Missed Us" features a sample from, believe it or not, the classic Nintendo game "The Legend of Zelda." There's no way it should work but it's a masterpiece. SWV's vintage harmonies combine with fresh lyrics over a throwback video game beat to produce a song that stands among the group's best work. Yeah, "I Missed Us" is that good.
SWV, I missed you. Welcome back.
Best tracks: "I Missed Us," "Keep You Home," "Show Off"
4 stars out of 5