If Madonna legitimized dance-pop artists, so that anyone who cared to make herself visible in unexpected ways was able to attract attention, Paula Abdul benefited most. Abdul may not raise the big questions, but her videos aren't like anyone else's. She talks frequently about being an "all-around entertainer," citing Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, but so far that has meant bringing old-fashioned theatrical glitz to the usual dance-diva roles voice on the radio, dancer in videos and cola pusher in commercials. What went unsaid in the recent... Read More
flap over the use of vocal padding on her 10-million-selling debut, Forever Your Girl
, was that splitting technological hairs over a Paula Abdul album is meaningless. She has never claimed her voice has rich timbre or expansive range; it's a prominent and distinctive part of a package that sells her personality. Abdul's debut proved she could make trivial music with panache. On Spellbound
she's casting about for harder material and specialized sounds, and the stretching suits her, boopsie voice and all.
Since clubs, radio and MTV are always up for more perky, professional dance music, Abdul couldn't miss with another album of the same stuff. Therefore it must mean something that she didn't make such an album. While Spellbound isn't going to alienate any party people, it is an edgier and slightly more experimental product than the cream-puffery of Forever Your Girl. Producers Peter Lord, V. Jeffrey Smith and Sandra St. Victor, the three members of the Family Stand, go after the funk with a vengeance, toss in juicy bits just for fun (background piano, P-Funk wails, a gorgeous violin break) and cavalierly filter the singer's vocals through everything, it seems, but a Kitchenaid. The result is, like Abdul herself, clean, appealing, awfully cute and a little corny.
Most of the songwriting is a collaborative effort between the Stand members and Abdul, in various combinations, and the trio seems to know what she's after. For instance, a good ballad (the first single, "Rush Rush") or two ("Blowing Kisses in the Wind") to prove beats aren't everything; a message tune that dances first and preaches later ("Rock House"); experiments in funky pop that could be added to a time capsule of early-Nineties disco ("Spellbound," "Vibeology"). Perhaps the Stand's most impressive feat is making Abdul sound connected to something maybe a community of artists, maybe her "self." In spite of her cast-of-dozens videos and comfortable image, she's always seemed a queerly isolated artist (see: Judy Garland); Spellbound is the work of a pleasant, gregarious one (see: Gene Kelly), and it makes her bounciness even more appealing.
On the grown-up tip, Abdul performs two something-to-prove statements by status artists. One is by Prince, who must be taking out full-page ads in the music trades ("Looking to legitimize your style? Add funk cachet with one of my pseudonymous