If you want to be narrow about it (and, in this case, I do), there are four iterations of diva house: smooth vocals, rough beats; rough vocals, smooth beats; rough vocals, rough beats; smooth vocals, smooth beats. While that’s not necessarily in descending order, the toughest dyad to pull off is unquestionably the last one. Pop-aspiring house music usually has 4/4 strikes against it, and if the entire mix is Teflon-smooth, the overall package is apt to slide right off listener’s ears as the pulsating beats blend into one big tranquilizing mash. Granted, Lisa Shaw’s understated, becalmed alto can hardly be counted as a strike (her entire career has taken a cue from Donna Summer’s ghostly, emotive, yet highly disciplined performance of “I Feel Love”), but she needs producers who won’t treat her voice as just another sonic lubricant. Free‘s production team Dave Warrin, Tim Kvasnosky, and Miguel Migs are, unfortunately, addicted to butta. The Euro-convulsive title track, the lightly Italo-techy “Music in You,” and the Everything But the Girl-style “Can You See Him” are all club floaters when Shaw’s ethereal qualities require a club banger. Decently dreamy compositions like the intoxicatingly dubby workout “All Night High” and the jazzy, clave-punctuated “Find the Way” get lost in the haze of samey-sounding kicks. As a result, the otherwise obligatory bar-break downtempo tunes are what really stick, even approximating something like seduction when held against the primped, sexless vibe the faster tunes exude. “Honey” oozes with a highly polished brand of sophisticated sleaze, and the reggae-in-echo-chamber atmospherics of “Inside My Love” approximate a racquetball rattling around inside a robotic vagina. Here’s to hoping Shaw feels love in her follow-up 12-inch singles.
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