Cruz could almost match John Legend in the lady-killing stakes.
Paul Clarke 2008-03-17
It was nearly Taio Cruz rather than Rihanna who offered to let us stand under an 'umbrella-ella-ella-ay'. For, until Jay-Z nabbed the track to give to his Barbadian protege, songwriter Tricky Stewart originally had this 23 year-old British r 'n' b singer and producer in mind for Umbrella. Yet whilst it's a shame that the move deprived Cruz of a global smash and everyone else of a video which could presumably have featured him singing in the rain like a young black Gene Kelly, Umbrella would hardly have fitted that comfortably onto Departure. Although many of the tracks on Cruz's debut solo album have obvious hit potential – with I Just Wanna Know having already crashed the Top 30 – there's not one that could in any way be described as 'novelty'.
Cruz has spent most of the last 5 years in the US, working with the likes of Timbaland and Dallas Austin. It's clearly tutored this Londoner in producing mature and polished records, as well as how to be convincingly 'sexy' – something Brits have always failed to really pull off ever since America gave us Elvis and we came up with Cliff Richard in response. Cruz could almost match John Legend in the lady-killing stakes however, even if most of his beats spring from far more modern places than the '70s soul Legend so studiously references.
Most of the ballads deploy strings over their r 'n' b rhythms, but new single, Come On Girl, is all crunchy electro. Fly Away starts with a slick electric guitar riff and I Can Be recalls '80s British pop soul acts like Joe Jackson or Fine Young Cannibals. Yet Departure is a much more American than British-sounding album, with Cruz's voice blurring into a mid-Atlantic burr. And if he's picked up any bad habits from his time over the pond then it's a slight earnestness in some of the lyrics. But despite this and an occasional tendency to play it safe on a few of the gooier slow jams, Taio Cruz is far from wet. Even without the benefit of an Umbrella.