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Vanessa Williams The Real Thing Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

As glossy, well-manicured and smooth as an air-brushed cover of Vogue magazine.

Michael Quinn 2009

Two years in the making and recorded during filming for the fourth season of Ugly Betty, The Real Thing shows little sign of its protracted birth. Quite the contrary. It's as glossy, well-manicured and smooth as an air-brushed cover of Vogue magazine with no visible joins between its easily worn blend of 'breezy Latin rhythms, sultry jazz standards and dreamy pop sketches'.

The down-played style is pristine and polished, as you might expect from its quartet of powerhouse producers: Keith Thomas, responsible for 40 chart-topping hits, Grammy Award-winning Rob Mathes, and Kenny 'Babyface' Edmonds, who seems to have worked with everyone-who-is-anyone, leading from the front.

And there's the rub. While it's one textbook-perfect arrangement after another, The Real Thing teeters on the edge of being over-produced to the point of near suffocation.

Forget Williams' belting urban R&B past, this is soft-spoken, candle-lit and wears its silky-smooth jazz credentials on its sleeve. Covers of material by Stevie Wonder (the bossa-accented title track), Bill Withers (Hello Like Before treated to a latenight lounge makeover) and Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen (Come On Strong purring like a Rolls Royce engine) complement a host of new songs that dangerously border on pastiche (most conspicuously on the Kenny Edmonds/Carole Bayer Sager-penned Loving You).

It all sounds lovely but it is so perfectly finished that if you listen to it too carefully it begins to feel and sound decidedly plastic. Left to its own devices crooning away in the background, it will undoubtedly accompany many a dinner party or late-night soirée unaware that it is playing at all.

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