The Pussycat Dolls captured the celebrity-obsessed zeitgeist with “When I Grow Up,” the lead single from their second album, Doll Domination. It’s another instantly catchy, full-throttle club track from producer Rodney Jerkins and a perfectly concocted blend of camp and vamp for the famous burlesque troupe. Like the Dolls’s debut, PCD, the new album could use a little more of that cabaret style and a little less of the anonymous, by-the-numbers R&B and dance formulas that have become the modern girl-group convention. Courtesy of R. Kelly, “Out of This Club” features some bottom-notch songwriting comprised mostly of rudimentary piano melodies and slang like “conversate,” while second single “Whatcha Think About That” is pure filler despite the presence of Missy Elliott on the mic (she gets three different verses!) and Polow da Don on the boards.
International single “I Hate This Part” would have made a better follow-up, dousing the campfire of “When I Grow Up” with its more adult sound the way “Stickwitu” did following “Don’t Cha” in 2005. The song adds Danish production duo Jonas Jeberg and Cutfather to an alarmingly growing list of current hitmakers who keep recycling the same drum loops and formulas ad nauseam; the difference this time is that the songwriting is strong enough to forgive whatever similarities the song has to Kylie Minogue’s “All I See” and Jordin Sparks’s “One Step at a Time.” Other pardonable repeat offenders on Doll Domination include Ne-Yo and Shea Taylor, whose lyrically and musically simple “Happily Never After” is perfectly tailored to lead Pussycat Nicole Scherzinger’s limited vocal ability (it was originally slated for the singer’s indefinitely shelved solo debut), and Timbaland, whose “Halo” is yet another in a long line of “Cry Me a River” rewrites but whose “Magic” possesses all of the throb and buzz you expect from both parties.
After the inexplicable “failure” of Nicole’s solo album (“Whatever U Like”—though a blatant rip-off of Kelis’s “Blindfold Me,” also produced by Polow da Don—was unjustly ignored), it was smart to spotlight the, uh, talents of the other pussycats this go ‘round. Nicole leads the pack on most of Doll Domination‘s tunes, but each member gets a solo song on the Deluxe Edition’s second disc. Melody Thornton, recognized as the group’s best vocalist, confirms “best” is still a relative term on the melisma-plagued “Space.” The only worthy solo entry is Kimberley Wyatt’s faithful-right-down-to-the-backing-track cover of Jane Child’s “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love,” proof that, once again, when it comes to 21st-century girl-groups, production is the real star.