I fully expected Paula Abdul to parlay her American Idol notoriety into a bid for a second-act recording career—the first one, after all, was kind of a shot in the dark for the professional cheerleader-turned-choreographer in the first place, and it ended as abruptly and inexplicably as it began. The release of new material, of course, would only highlight the absurdity of Abdul telling anyone that they’re “pitchy,” so a greatest hits collection is probably all we’re ever going to get. Unfortunately, Greatest Hits: Straight Up! is a lazy enterprise: some of the early cuts sound like they were ripped straight from the old, dusty Forever Your Girl cassette that’s still sitting in my parents’ basement and the cover art is taken from the exact same photo shoot as the one used for 2000’s Greatest Hits (and that one was hotter).
In fact, Straight Up! would be completely gratuitous if the selections on her previous hits collection weren’t so screwy: the minor Spellbound hit “Will You Marry Me?” is included here, as is the original version of her last Top 40 hit, “My Love Is for Real,” both of which were M.I.A. last time around. “One or the Other,” from Abdul’s wildly successful debut, is a welcome addition; it may not have been a hit, but you’d never know it. All of the singles are presented in their original radio edits, which means we get to relish in (or cringe at) raps by Abdul and The Wild Pair on “Cold Hearted” and “Opposites Attract,” respectively—and yes, Abdul’s is the good one. The butchered version of “Vibeology,” however, is criminal. Criminal!
Attempting to put Abdul’s contributions to dance-pop in a broader context feels like a waste of time since she seems more interested in giving inebriated interviews like this than making music—or even contributing to this compilation. But it should be noted that Abdul was once savvy enough to surround herself with the best songwriters and producers, even in an era when mediocre ones could have scored her a hit. The Prince-esque “Forever Your Girl” is still pretty lackluster, but even the ballads and lesser hits like “Crazy Cool,” from Abdul’s underrated swan song Head Over Heels, hold their own next to the classic “Straight Up,” which also serves as a dorky subtitle for this album. Giggle. Burp.