Let’s Talk About Sucks: Foxx escapes Ray Charles’ shadow only to wallow in oversexed R&B numbers
Jamie Foxx has a lot going for him: decent voice, good looks, huge diamond earrings, star power, Oscar-winning acting skills and charisma.
What he lacks is an album with enough substance to let any of it shine through. After kicking off his musical career by emulating Ray Charles, it’s understandable that Foxx would want to prove himself as himself. But instead of tapping into the wealth of unique life experiences at his disposal, he’s crafted a generically freaky R&B simulacrum. Like an ill-prepared tackle box, the record is loaded with flossy lines but direly lacks hooks, and it becomes clear: it’s better to be the imitation Ray Charles than the poor man’s R. Kelly. How did the chainsaw-soul Foxx exhibited on Kanye West’s hit, “Gold Digger,” metastasize into these leering single entendres?
Unpredictable stifles Foxx’s personality in a digest of clichés verging on parody, and inexplicably harking back to Ginuwine and Blackstreet, complete with tooth-gritted rococo cadences, freaky interludes and smarmily unsexy sex jams. Even though Foxx supplied the white-hot hook for “Gold Digger,” he apparently couldn’t persuade Kanye to return the favor by donating some beats. Instead, Unpredictable bogs down in twitchy reconciliations of Southern bounce, moist G-funk and smooth jazz that don’t even begin to prop up Foxx’s forgettable melodies, phoned-in rapper cameos dropped awkwardly into songs (industry standard, but still), lubricated come-ons, disjointed narratives, multi-tracked and variously filtered Foxx-on-Foxx harmonizing and fluttery emoting.
The title track and lead single—featuring a guaranteed hitmaking cameo by Ludacris—starts off promisingly with bombastic horns and strings, but soon fades into a tepid lite-funk that manages to diffuse even Luda’s dynamic flow. “With You” evokes hip-hop collective Dipset’s whistle hooks, with a blasé yet organically interwoven Snoop cameo and a cumbersomely placed but authoritative appearance from The Game. Kanye guests on “Extravaganza,” and while Foxx’s vocal line is flaccid, meandering where it wants to vamp, West is terrific. Notoriously agile-tongued rapper Twista shows up on “DJ Play a Love Song,” hoping to recreate the magic that earned Foxx a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration” on Twista’s “Slow Jamz.” But while this tale of creeping on a girl who’s at the club with her man is OK, I liked it better when it was called “Run It,” with R&B singer Chris Brown playing the part of Jamie Foxx and Dipset’s Juelz Santana standing in for Twista.
Foxx devotes almost every song on Unpredictable to his sex obsession, and, lyrically, the album ranges from unintentionally hilarious (“Every time I try to walk away / You put that ass on me and make me stay”) to head-clutchingly bizarre (“Baby, one plus one ain’t two when you’re with me / C and B ain’t after A when you’re with me”). One of the only songs that isn’t a series of increasingly lurid propositions, the Mary J. Blige duet, “Love Changes,” goes too far in the opposite direction: it’s a bittersweet, soft-focused ode to malleable love and outdated gender roles, with preposterous beatnik affectations and call-and-response groaners about getting back to loving, hugging, caring and sharing. But hold up—You put that ass on me? I guess the album’s title isn’t completely misleading, because I never saw that one coming.