Oscar-winning soul diva Jennifer Hudson has given herself a musical makeover with her new album JHUD. And frankly, it is well overdue.
The 33-year old yummy mummy is hanging up the power ballads we’ve heard her do a thousand times before in favour of a vibrant disco and 1970s R&B styles.
But don’t get it twisted, Ms Hudson is not slacking off in the vocal department by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the upbeat production takes her vocals to new heights and puts her in the same field as iconic artists who have filled dance floors in past decades.
You may have slept on the singles she released in the last 12 months and I don’t blame you (anyone else thought ‘Walk It Out’ sounded painfully dated by Timbaland‘s standards?) but Jennifer comes to life in technicolour on JHUD. The best tracks are indeed the ones saved for the album.
Standout numbers like ‘It’s Your World’ (featuring R. Kelly) sound like something lifted from an old episode of Soul Train. You have Hudson and Kelly engaging in a five minute-long vocal showdown, spurred on by a funky beat and lush strings that would’ve done Earth, Wind and Fire proud. Basically, if they had made a sequel to Dreamgirls following Effie’s journey to solo stardom, this would be the starring performance.
You don’t need to check the receipts to know that this is one hell of an expensive album. Top-line hit makers like Pharrell, Timbaland and The Fugees‘ producer Jerry Duplessis have all checked-in.
The Pharrell-hemmed track, ‘He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, tops the bill with an Iggy Azalea feature. You’d think they would have rushed this one out as a single by now, considering Iggy’s stock.
Jennifer goes into sassy sex therapist mode here coaching her girlfriends on how to please their men. “Get what you want, get more pleasure. Leave no one, y’all come together. Whisper in his ear, it makes it hotter. Don’t wipe the sweat, it makes it better!’ she sings.
The heat continues on ‘Dangerous’, a track which I’ve been obsessed with for months but only recently realised it was never released as a single.
Produced by Nineteen85, who also did Drake’s ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’, this tune hears Jennifer rocking and swirling to an airy production and pounding bass. It is decidedly one of the album’s more modern-sounding pieces but even so, you can hear it as a delightful companion to Michael Jackson‘s ‘Rock With You’. Absolute must-hear: the bit where she belts out with all the charisma of a drag queen in heat, “Touch my bo-day-eh-eh-eh-eh!”. Steady now, girl.
JHUD also hosts a surprising collaboration from this side of the Atlantic. London’s own electronic music duo, Gorgon City, supplies the album’s sole house track, ‘I Still Love You’, a big yearning number with lo-fi vocals that sound like it was recorded in the bathroom of a nightclub.
We’ve heard Jennifer tackle major hands-to-the-sky club tunes before – she cut a track on David Guetta‘s 2011 album Nothing But The Beat and also appears on Gorgon City‘s debut album Sirens – but ‘I Still Love You’ feels more like a statement piece for the album and homage to the late Donna Summer.
‘Moan’ is the album’s curtain closer and only ballad Hudson offers. It’s an intensely personal lamentation dedicated to her mother who was brutally shot dead in her home six years ago. She sings (and I must confess, I struggled to keep a dry eye hearing this), ‘My mama taught me every little thing I know / I will take it everywhere I go… so when I miss you, I start singing and I moan’.
JHUD is unquestionably Jennifer Hudson‘s long-awaited artistic awakening: a confident and soulful expression through colourful retro grooves and rhythms that shows us, for the first time, that she’s capable of being more than just a powerhouse vocalist.
It’s a shame that the album’s unlikely to reach the kind of commercial success it deserves but hopefully with enough critical kudos, Hudson can strut back with the next project to greater fanfare and anticipation.
Standout tracks: ‘Dangerous’, ‘I Still Love You’, ‘It’s Your World’ (feat. R. Kelly) and ‘He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ (feat. Iggy Azalea).
Side bar: I was so inspired by J.Hud’s foray into old school funk and disco that I put together this Disco Down playlist on Spotify. It features some JHUD tracks, alongside classics by Chic, Prince, Michael Jackson, Earth Wind and Fire and Diana Ross as well as present-millennium disco tunes by Scissor Sisters, Sam Sparro and Beyoncé.