This is a pretty slick R&B record that manages, through its charismatic performances and relatively sparse arrangements, to not feel as slick as it absolutely is. Some of that impression may just come from my unfamiliarity with New Jack Swing, too.
The material here is probably the biggest problem (aside from said slickness). Though some of the songs are kind of catchy, there’s nothing here that’s really as catchy as their biggest hits. Even “Hold On”, the big hit here and a song I didn’t know, doesn’t really strike me as their later ’90s hits. (Though “Hold On” was a major hit, so maybe it’s just me.) I’m glad they co-write most of their music but its’ clear that some more manufactured groups had better songwriting factories behind them, at this early stage. (And that makes sense! It takes time to become good at writing songs.)
The arrangements are refreshingly sparse. I am comparing them to mid ’90s R&B so it’s possible this is just standard New Jack Swing, but it’s nice to hear their vocals – with maybe just the odd vocal overdub – with just keyboard bass, drum machine and a melodic instrument like a keyboard, usually. (Sometimes there are samples and there’s a saxophone.) As with most if not all R&B: less is more. And it’s hard to understand why so many people don’t understand this. The voice – voices in this case – is the star, so let it be the star.
Otherwise it’s a pretty slick production – everything things sounds good, too good for my liking. En Vogue are very polished and rehearsed – as you expect a vocal group like this to be – but there’s no real grit to their singing and the production is the same. At least there’s only one skit.
I think with better material this would actually be quite good for its genre, given the relatively few instruments backing the group.