“American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard’s debut, Soulful, is a painfully predictable mix of traditional R&B glop and comparatively forced contemporary hip-hop. While the R&B fodder here might be a bit prosaic, at least it comes more naturally to Studdard than contrived hip-hop tracks like the insufferably repetitive and tuneless “Don’t Quit On Me” and “Take The Shot,” in which the singer tries his darndest to equate a relationship to basketball: “You got the ball, girl, take a shot.” The only urban-leaning tune that does Studdard any justice is “What Is Sexy,” a bouncy track penned by Ja Rule and featuring Fat Joe (despite recent efforts to sound more “street,” the song proves Ja’s talents truly lay in pop hooks). The track’s theme fits Studdard perfectly, as millions of “A.I.” fans challenged the idea of “sexy” by making winners out of him and his pal Clay Aiken. Still, Studdard fares best tackling gushy ballads and covers (he pays tribute to Luther Vandross by way of the Carpenters’ “Superstar,” maybe the sole moment where Studdard sounds completely comfortable, and Al Green by way of the Bee Gees’ “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart”). Though Soulful doesn’t suffer a split personality disorder quite as severe as Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful, both singers’ impressive live vocal talents are squandered on record. The album’s opening track, “Sorry 2004,” finds Studdard apologizing to his girl for a whole year of forthcoming blunders, but the song is too weighed down by its archetypical R&B arrangement to ever sound clever or witty. Now, if he was apologizing to 2004, that might make a little more sense.
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