Rather than rehash her previous hip-hop successes with Murder Inc., Jennifer Lopez makes a surprising step toward more adult-oriented R&B on her third studio album. This Is Me…Then mixes the old with the new to varying degrees of success: Lopez and guest LL Cool J playfully interpolate Debra and Ronnie Laws’ “Very Special” on “All I Have”; “The One” lazily rewrites Mary J. Blige’s “Everything”; and the infectious “Jenny from the Block,” in which Lopez tries to convince us she’s still lil’ Jenny Lo from the Bronx, is structured around a chunky casserole of samples including the Beatnuts’ 1999 hit “Watch Out Now,” Herbie Mann’s “Hijack” and KRS-One’s “South Bronx.” Lopez makes reference to boyfriends past (“Do you ever wish we never split?/‘Cause I’ve still got love for you,” she sings on “Still”) and present (she gushes for Ben Affleck on the vintage-sounding “Baby I Love U”). Affleck is, in fact, the subject of the album’s glowing centerpiece, the ballad “Dear Ben.” Lopez’s voice is silky and emotive as she delivers a timeless melody and lyric: “I love you/You’re perfect/A manifestation of my dreams.” While J. Lo wisely steered clear of any and all ballads, This Is Me…Then manages to find the right formula for Lopez’s slinky vocal. Ripe with live instrumentation and stripped of the Latin-pop numbers that, though good, never seemed quite authentic, This Is Me…Then is more unified than its predecessors. Though Lopez’s voice is best suited for dance-pop (“Waiting for Tonight” is still her best single), the album forsakes such pleasures for a richer, fuller sound. Lopez will no doubt earn a grain of respect from critics but the commercial cost is yet to be seen.
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