Album Reviews: Chain Letter by Brooke ValentineOn her debut album, Brooke Valentine falls prey to a forgivable affliction for a 19-year-old: She can’t figure out who she wants to be. Is she a dance floor diva? Hard-edged rapper? Or maybe a big-hearted balladeer? Her guest appearances indicate a desire to connect with the hip-hop community, but the cartoon performances phoned in by a pair of them (Lil Jon and the late Dirt McGirt a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard) offer little legitimacy.
To her credit, Valentine actually co-writes her songs, and she dishes out plenty of poppy, big-beat party music. “Ghetto Superstarz” is the best offering, but at least four others are ripe for commercial radio play. She even shows off a sense of humor on the campy “I Want You Dead,” where an apocalyptic gospel choir backs her on the chorus. She’s not the best singer, but she doesn’t need to be. The songs are fun, the energy is high, and she’s sassy and sexy. All good, right?
Like a lot of recent R&B, unfortunately, Chain Letter slips into some dreadful territory when it comes time for the ballads (“Dying From a Broken Heart,” “Laugh Till I Cry”). Here, it’s more important for Valentine to shine vocally, but with her narrow range, she’s relegated to the genre’s talented but faceless crowd. She isn’t helped by her arrangements, which get hopelessly mushy whenever they slow down, but mostly what hurts her is her confused image. She tries to do -- and be -- too much. An optimist would say that all these mixed messages are the mark of a complicated artist in the making. Unfortunately, for now at least, the evidence sounds more like confused marketing. - Adam McKibbin
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