Jennifer Lopez is a child of the ’80s. She grew up singing along to Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” and it seems she hasn’t ever stopped. So it’s not surprising that so many of the tracks on her sophomore effort, J. Lo, sound like they’re straight out of 1986. “I’m Real,” a retro pop track reminiscent of Janet Jackson’s Control era, is followed up with the funky “Play.” Either song would have made a brave first single. “Walking on Sunshine” ups the tempo to ’90s standards while maintaining a retro sound. The track pales in comparison to the unabashed glory of her hit “Waiting for Tonight,” but it’s a satisfying hands-in-the-air anthem for this year’s crop of club-kids.
“That’s Not Me” is an urgent, mixed-meter piece of self-empowerment. The track climaxes with an arrangement of thick beats, acoustic guitar, piano and a complex vocal arrangement (gasp!). While Lopez’s voice has never been her fortune, she manages to pull this one off, and the effect is almost operatic. Fortunately, Lopez knows her strengths and we’re spared mushy slow numbers in favor of sex-drenched balladry, Janet-style. Yet “Come Over” and “Secretly” are simply empty blueprints of Janet’s “Any Time, Any Place,” full with chimes and finger-snaps. Like much of the album, the lyrics are where things fall apart, making Janet’s odes to forbidden lust sound even sexier: “I love when you come over/And when you come it gives me fever.”
The Latin-flavored “Ain’t It Funny” is terribly infectious, but for some reason there’s an overpowering choir of back-up vocalists singing the chorus. “We Gotta Talk” and “It’s Gonna Be Alright” are pretty formulaic, and both feature more of those silly Lopez-free vocal arrangements. The first single, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” is a cheap carbon copy of Rodney Jerkins’ style of frothy R&B. Lopez co-produced half of J. Lo herself, yet the album seems to struggle for an identity. It’s a mixed bag: part retro dance-pop, part prescription R&B, and part Latin. But Lopez’s voice seems best suited for dance-pop rather than R&B and, judging from this album, it’s where her heart is too.