1991, Music

The Comfort Zone (1991) by Vanessa Williams

Who is this for? Some of it feels like it’s for Janet Jackson fans (who have lower standards). But some of this is for your grandma. Well, maybe your parents. Either way, some of this is super cheesy adult contemporary. (Her “signature” song being the most obvious example.) And that leads you to wonder why either group would by it, given how much material there is of the other type.

I was too young for all the scandal stuff. I was like 3 years old. So, for me, the whole scandal was something in the distant past when I became aware of Williams as an actress. (Through Eraser if I’m not mistaken. Though it could have been the guest appearance on Fresh Prince.) And I was aware of “Save the Best for Last” of course, as something cheesy that old people liked. But if I ever connected the woman in Eraser with the woman singing cheesy adult contemporary, it wasn’t really meaningful to me. I certainly didn’t imagine that Williams was a singer first, or at least more successfully.

And she is a pretty good singer. She’s not super distinct but she has chops and she can sing both ballads and upbeat stuff (not everyone can).

Obviously I’ve never heard her debut album. But the New Jack Swing stuff on this one sounds sub-Janet Jackson to me, and very imitative of Janet, especially the “sexy” stuff. (There is also a hilarious cameo by a member of Black Sheep. Hilarious in that you’re wondering how it could possibly happen.) Some of it is absolutely cheesier than Janet, and a little more accessible to older people, but there’s plenty of it that feels just like wannabe Janet.

Then, “Save the Best for Last” comes in as track six and we veer wildly into adult contemporary cheese. And then the next track is the kind of faux jazz you get in the adult contemporary world. And you’re wondering about the people who liked the sub-Janet stuff and what they think of these tracks.

We get back to dance music a couple tracks later and some more of the upbeat ballads. But then the cheesy ballads come back again! And it’s hard to know what the weird detour in the middle is supposed to be about. Given that it produced her biggest hit of her career, you gotta assume some people came to this album expecting more adult contemporary pablum. And it’s hard to know what the people who are listening to the R&B at the beginning would think of the heavy doses of cheese in the middle and near the end.

In short, it’s really hard to know who this is for or why, when making it, they decided to go this route. Maybe Williams likes both kinds of music. But, if so, couldn’t they be better integrated? Couldn’t there be some kind of effort in this regard? And couldn’t they sequence it better?


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