Jennifer Hudson’s second album is prefaced by an unimaginable rollercoaster, in which she has taken on the bleakest of contrasts. An Oscar win, marriage and childbirth were starkly juxtaposed with the tragic passing of her mother, brother and seven-year-old nephew. So it’s no surprise that the former American Idol contestant’s already soaring vocal is on such defiant form on I Remember Me. It’s just a shame that the album’s producers encourage Hudson to hit fifth gear so early and remain there throughout. Subtlety in places would have made for a more rounded album than the blustering, galeforce power that overwhelms most of I Remember Me’s arrangements.
That said, every overdone note – every reach into the highest octave – is justified. Hudson’s living, breathing sense of rediscovery is worn like a shield, with her colossal vocal persisting through each song like a newly-found dimension rising above the music – the religious references go some way to showing this off too. But Hudson’s talent, in the main part, is a voice that merits something different to many of the by-numbers songs on this second album. It seems just par for the course that so few of these songs do no more than pat the singer’s back through the course of her therapy.
Filler songs are frequent, but that’s not to say that some of I Remember Me isn’t quite spectacular. The stomping shoop-shoop of album opener No One Gonna Love You is a standout – “I’ve been through some things/ please don’t hold that against me,” she sings painstakingly, which must be the understatement of the year. R Kelly collaboration Where You At is another highlight, a rock-solid, dramatic RnB jam forcefully grabbing at Hudson’s own heartstrings, with chugging drums recalling R Kelly’s own If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time. Moments of light are thankfully – and astonishingly – frequent too, with one-for-all disco anthem Everybody Needs Love the perfect framing for her touching optimism.
Angel is a similarly powerhouse success, in spite of how far the high-reaching bridges stretch Hudson’s natural alto. But while her voice is her get-out-of-jail card on occasion, it proves destructively grating elsewhere – if I Remember Me had space enough to tone down, Jennifer Hudson’s personality would have a more fitting stage on which to shine. Every wrung-out note is catapulted, often meaning that Hudson fails to leave any personal stamp, and it shouldn’t be this way either, for the startling vocal control she displays. As it is, the album in its entirety leaves a less-than-soothing piercing feeling.
There are ballads aplenty here, on which the relentless emoting becomes tired; it’s as if the songs’ demands are entirely forgotten all too often. Hudson’s take on Nina Simone‘s Feeling Good is an over-sung mess in comparison with the original’s tempting restraint, and an interpretation of The Star-Spangled Banner could quite easily have been trimmed. The conclusion is an easy one: at 17-songs-long, there’s just too much of the same strength. Gracious showboating is the theme of the day, but it’s just not enough to last while Adele and Jazmine Sullivan are pushing forward at such incredible velocity.
Jennifer Hudson has her dues – I Remember Me is as overdone as it is touching, and for reasons other than goodwill. It’s an album far more than a parasite riding the wave of a traumatic situation, with a confident protagonist at its heart. But as far as Jennifer Hudson’s future recording career goes, she’ll need to work with more stringent producers if she’s to truly showcase that wonderful, old-school voice.