Jennifer Love Hewitt is one of the most overlooked vocalists of the nineties. Vocally, the girl has more talent than Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore, or any of the other young teen stars in the business today. Heck, Jennifer launched her musical career while Britney was still trying to make it in the Mickey Mouse Club ... but sadly, her album fell flat on arrival. One wonders what things would have been like had she released a record circa 1998/2000, the time of the "young female teen singer" explosion ... the success of her rocky "How Do I Deal" single from 1998 would certainly suggest that perhaps she would have done better around that time.
Technically, this was Jennifer's first album (I don't count the abominable Japan-only release "Love Songs", comprised of mass slaughterings of classic tunes such as "Dancing Queen" and "Heart Of Glass" with MIDI-sounding backings). Understandably, this makes the overall sound of the album quite inconsistent. We can't be sure whether she wants to be the next Janet or Celine Dion. The opener, "Kiss Away From Heaven" is certainly very "Rhythm Nation", but quite an average attempt. Further into the disc, "Can't Stand In The Way Of Love" is somewhat better (very catchy, but less-inspired vocals), but it all comes off sounding rather tripe. Jennifer's attempt at an interlude ("The Garden") is a blatant rip-off of the spoken word part of Janet's "That's The Way Love Goes" ... hmmmmm, not good so far Jen.
Then of course, we have the bluesy Jennifer. Whether she had been listening to too many Frank Sinatra records, we don't know, but it certainly created some interesting results. The first single from the album, "Let's Go Bang" ("bang" being a style of dance) is very catchy with some great vocals (but rather silly lyrics). "Free To Be A Woman", however, is a poor version of "Let's Go Bang" with cringe-worthy lyrics ... and don't even get me STARTED on her butchering of the David Gates classic "Baby I'm A Want You". Elsewhere, she tries her hand at some Celine Dion material with varying degrees of success. "In Another Life" is a gorgeous piece, with a string-based introduction and easily the most amazing vocals Jennifer has ever captured on record. She soars and swoops in true diva style on the chorus, and sounds angelic to say the least. Quite a masterpiece, that track. However, "Couldn't Find Another Man" (also a single I'm lead to believe ... good choice Atlantic Records, NOT) is quite possibly the most vomit-inducing song I have ever heard. Laden with "I'll love you forever" lyrics and a sentiment about as deep as a paddling pool, this song is why stereo manufacturers invented the "skip" button.
There are two very good reasons to buy this CD though. "You Make Me Smile" is a 50's-styled jazz tune with a doo-wop influence. The result is something of a divine experience. The lyrics are simple but heartfelt, the melody inspired ... absolutely brilliant. Also, "The Difference Between Us" is quite possibly Jennifer's best song. A nineties-styled funk number, it comes off as both quite sweetly sentimental but a little dark and mysterious at the same time. Very atmospheric, and worth the price of the album alone.
So what went wrong, Jennifer?? It's fairly simple. The girl couldn't work out where she wanted her music to go. The styles on "Let's Go Bang" don't gel particularly well, and the overall sound is somewhat patchy and inconsistent. There are some really great songs on this album which highlight Jennifer's surprisingly high level of vocal ability, but there are also some clunkers. For Jennifer fans, this is a must-have just for the sake of completeness, and for fans of pop music in general it is certainly very listenable and still more sophisticated than Britney's first effort, but for everyone else perhaps this is not your bag. Luckily, by the following year Jennifer had well and truly perfected her sound, churning out one of the best albums of the nineties. "Jennifer Love Hewitt" is a soulful, R'n'B-tinged affair with much better songs, almost tailor-made for Jennifer's vocals and sound. That album is a far wiser purchase.