A performer like Jennifer Hudson needs to be incredibly careful when they go out and make an album. Her voice is so incredibly strong that there are times when a producer may feel the need to drown a song with it, while another producer may think that all a song needs is her voice and no tune. These two issues present themselves on her debut album Jennifer Hudson. Take "What's Wrong (Go Away)" for instance, featuring T-Pain, it is basically an excuse to allow Hudson's vocal gymnastics and T-Pain's terrible computer-altered vocals to be let loose and, come songs end, I had a headache from all the noise. I just wanted it to shut up. Conversely there are slow tracks like "Invisible" and "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There" - a gospel number - that just sort of flap about with nowhere to go. Hudson's vocals are impressive, but the songs are limp.
It is reasons like this that lead single "Spotlight" is so good. It neither goes excessively overboard with tricks and gimmicks, yet it doesn't feel like I should be using it to get to sleep. It's catchy and hooky and Hudson's voice is utterly gorgeous on it. Much to my surprise Hudson excels on the more hip-hop flavoured and obviously urban-edged tracks as opposed to the weaker-than-desired slow soul numbers she got given. The album's best track is the mini-epic "If This Isn't Love", which gradually builds into a truly stunning crescendo that, if this were a movie in which Hudson must fight to prove she really is a talented singer, would be the moment where the crowd starts to nod their head and think "Yeah, this is it!" Alas, it's track number two so it's really only down from there.
"Pocketbook", featuring Ludacris, is a beatboxing hip-hop track that has flare and sass, "My Heart" and is minimal but encompassing and lo-fi tracks like "You Pulled Me Through" and "Giving Myself" are nice and walk the fine line between pretty and turgid. The duet "I'm His Only Women" with Fantasia is an obvious try at recreating the stunning "The Boy Is Mine" by Brandy and Monica - it even includes a spoken work intro - but their voices don't work together inside the slow-tempo confines of the track and is a big disappointment considering the talent involved.
Tacked onto the end of the album are two of her finest moments. "All Dressed In Love" from the Sex and the City soundtrack is a great retro pastiche from Cee-Lo (Gnarles Barkley) while "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" is lifted directly from the Dreamgirls soundtrack even though Hudson was better on the smoother "I Am Changing".
Jennifer Hudson is a bit of a confusing album to get my head around. There are some fine urban tracks, but there are also some dodgy ones. There are some gorgeous adult contemporary-aimed slower tracks, but there are also some dodgy ones. It doesn't quite know what it wants to be and suffers because of it. Individually there are plenty of fine tracks here, but they don't gel enough to form a cohesive album. Still, at least she has an album out there, which is an accomplishment in itself.