Picks and Pans Review: Wonderful

updated 08/08/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/08/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Rick James

There's a great deal more perspiration than inspiration evident on Wonderful, a curiously forced and flat record from such a veteran of the funk business as James. He's experienced enough to disguise some of the album's flaws. James can dress up songs to sound better than they are with such devices as the sly horn charts and jazzy piano solo on the throwaway tune, Judy. His always sure touch for vocal arrangements even helps float a garbage scow like Sexual Luv Affair. There's no escaping it, though. The slow songs, such as I Believe in U ("And even as the sea makes its way to the shore/ So will I make my way to you"), are as sappy as corn syrup. Even on the best cuts, like Wonderful, the grooves are stale and the instrumentation clamorous. His usual creativity having deserted him, James resorts to casting around for outside models to imitate. So Tight seems a bald rip-off of Cameo. On Loosey's Rap, he ropes in Roxanne Shante for a hip-hop duet that borders on the insipid. There are no outside influences on the second side of the album, but it's such a sorry mess that by the time you've waded through it, you'll be wishing James had tried some more musical impersonations. Either that, or just waited until he had some decent material of his own. In this case, James's muse was clearly nowhere near Wonderful. (Reprise)

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