Picks and Pans Review: Walking with a Panther

updated 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

L.L. Cool J

Here's a guy who has fallen in love with the sound of his own voice. All right, that's an occupational hazard for rappers, but rarely has this sort of verbal vanity exerted such a baleful stylistic influence as it does on this young urban poetaster.

Cool J has seriously scaled back on the percussive and instrumental components that adorned his earlier work, apparently so his slick rhymes can come across without distraction. It's an arrogant and largely misguided decision. Let's face it, if rhetoric made for such a wonderful listening experience, Richard Burton, James Earl Jones and Lorne Greene would have monopolized the Grammys every year.

So, since L.L. wants to talk your ear off, the question becomes, What's on his mind? Not very much, as it turns out. "Droppin' Em" is typical rap bragging. "Fast Peg" is a cautionary tale for fast-lane flygirls. "Big Ole Butt" contains the unapologetic ruminations of a lover who moves from girl to girl like a pollinating bee. After the success of "I Need Love," the hit rap ballad from his last record, it was inevitable Cool J would try this romantic tack again, and he does, three times, on the inferior "You're My Heart," "One Shot at Love" and "Two Different Worlds."

Cool J's spartan approach works sporadically—on "Clap Your Hands," for instance, in which he once again denigrates the competition with such observations as "I rhyme like Superman/ You rap like Jimmy Olsen." Also striking is "I'm That Type of Guy," in which an adulterous man chides the boyfriend he has cuckolded. As Cool J rubs salt in the wounds ("I'm the type of guy to leave my drawers in your hamper"), his posse wails the "Oh—ee—oh" marching chant used by the Wicked Witch's guards in The Wizard of Oz. "1-900 L.L. Cool J" is nicely set to a jittery funk guitar riff.

Those are the exceptions, though. For most of this album, L.L. leaves his voice hanging lonely, like a balloon in the wind. (Def Jam/Columbia)

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