I Remember Me by Jennifer Hudson
It's amazing to think that, even though she was one of the third season American Idol finalists in 2004, finishing seventh — though, to be fair, finalists two through six have been utterly forgotten — and won the Academy, Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG and Image Award for Best Supporting Actress three years later for her performance in Dreamgirls, Jennifer Hudson didn't get around to releasing an actual album until 2008: Jennifer Hudson. Now, that effort was widely dismissed, constituting as it did a jumble of panderingly modern R&B styles, but also because, even though producers like T-Pain, Timbaland, Ne-Yo and Missy Elliott may be great in their own right, there was always a directness and raw emotionality to Hudson's voice that really required very little packaging, processing and prettying up. Her second album, I Remember Me, constitutes an almost imperceptibly more stripped-down version of the self-titled album's aesthetic.
"No One Gonna Love You" couldn't be more direct if it were completely acoustic: though it's driven by a big loud "snappity," "clackity" borderline modern-sounding drum sample, producer Rich Harrison evinces the sufficient degree of restraint so that Hudson doesn't have to; the only real drawbacks here are the polarizing tensions of a slightly lazy composition and a performance perhaps slightly too over-the-top for a side one opener. Stargate's "I Got This" and the R. Kelly-penned "Where You At" are fine compositions featuring as ever powerful vocal performances, but both suffer from unnecessarily liberal implementation of autotune processing and dinky sounding synths. "Angel" marries gospel influences to some slightly boring faux-military drumming, but it succeeds largely on the strength of Hudson's unadulterated voice; the skippable "I Remember Me" offers very little by way of a melody and, for this reason, Hudson's exertions feel somewhat wasted and all I can say of "Gone," "Still Here" and "Believe" is that they're a bit like paint-by-numbers sentimentality: the former sort of cheapers the latter.
The disco stomping "Everybody Needs Love" and "Don't Look Down" flirt with pastiche at the risk of being a bit kitsch; though both get off to a strong start, neither grows into anything or has much going for it other than novelty. Shaffer Smith's "Why Is It So Hard" is one of the album's best tracks: ostensibly based around live instrumentation and vaguely invoking Amy Winehouse. Not to add insult to injury, but I think Muse's cover of "Feeling Good" was somehow less cheap than this one. Hudson herself is above reproach here as she has a fine voice, always delivers emotionally rousing performances, didn't produce any of the tracks, only co-wrote one and doesn't play an instrument, but it's a shame that such a substantial talent has so many talentless friends.