Funky Divas still sounds as much fun today as it did in 1992.
Daryl Easlea 2009
By the time of this, their second album, En Vogue were on their way to becoming one of the most successful female vocal acts of all time. The group – Cindy Herron, Dawn Robinson, Maxine Jones and Terry Ellis – represented intelligence, beauty and liberation, with a selection of well-chosen material that showcased both their strength and independence.
En Vogue had been put together in Oakland, California by producers Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster, who had previously overseen work by Club Nouveau and Tony! Toni! Toné!. They had been looking to update the soul girl-group template, which at that point in the US had remained largely static since Motown.
Born to Sing, En Vogue’s 1990 debut, was immediate and infectious. The group’s vocal blend and succulent choice of songs was designed for maximum commerciality, a silky antidote to the gangsta rap that was then so prevalent in the US. The fact that they looked stunning (Herron was a former Miss Black California) did them little harm, as each single was accompanied with videos devoured by MTV.
McElroy and Foster were magpies of the highest order and Funky Divas revels – in the most creative way possible – in its thievery. It borrows from new jack swing, hip hop, classic soul and, in the case of stand-out track Free Your Mind, heavy metal. The blend was irresistible. From the smooth old-school groove of Give It Up, Turn It Loose, to the pop sensibility of My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It) and the delicious cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Giving Him Something He Can Feel, there is an undeniable zest here.
The only real wrong-foot is the clanking new jack swing version of The Beatles’ Yesterday. Herron’s singing is fair enough, but the world really didn’t need another rendition of the song, and certainly not one with crunching drum machines giving their all.
En Vogue’s strain of soul and sassiness can be seen as a direct influence on both Destiny’s Child and, in the UK, All Saints and the Spice Girls. Aside from a few dated production tics, Funky Divas still sounds as much fun today as it did in 1992.