Mr. Hudson

Straight No Chaser

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While the distinctly British acoustic ska-pop of debut album A Tale of Two Cities didn't exactly indicate that Mr. Hudson was the future of U.S. hip-hop, the Birmingham-born singer/songwriter has since become one of the scene's hottest properties, appearing on both Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 ("Young Forever") and Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak ("Paranoid"). Indeed, it's the MTV Awards stage invader himself who is solely responsible for this unlikeliest of career turnarounds, having offered his services as a mentor after hearing "Cover Girl," a track from Hudson's 2007 debut. Dropping his band the Library from his stage name, although all the group's musicians appear here in one form or another, sophomore outing Straight No Chaser, executive produced by West, eschews the experimental folky troubadour leanings of its predecessor in favor of a combination of punchy electro, '80s-inspired synth pop, and glossy hook-laden R&B that has already paid dividends on number two hit "Supernova." Only kept off the top spot by X Factor boy band JLS' debut single, it's a huge juggernaut of a track, whose pounding drums, knob-twiddling effects, and crescendo of vocodored vocals opens up the proceedings with an emphatic bang. Of course, its guest appearance from West, who also crops up on the robotic slow jam "Anyone But Him," will do little to dispel the accusations that Hudson is riding on the coattails of his much more established egocentric collaborator, but the album is just as sparkling when the Draco Malfoy look-alike goes it alone. "White Lies" is a brooding atmospheric slice of new wave pop reminiscent of Tears for Fears' gloomier moments; "Instant Messenger," with its eerie echoed vocals, stark production, and powerful electronic beats sounds like a distant cousin to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight"; and "There Will Be Tears" is a beautifully haunting fusion of the Streets-style garage and minimal melancholic electronica. However, while his labelmate Jay-Z might recently have sung about the death of Auto-Tune, Hudson doesn't appear to have paid much attention, as the overused piece of studio trickery swamps the 13 tracks, rendering his quintessentially English Sting-esque vocals almost unrecognizable, which is fine on the Dr. Dre-inspired party anthem "Lift Your Head," but less welcome on the laid-back acoustic pop of "Stiff Upper Lip." Claiming his mission statement was to make a pop record, but not a throwaway pop record, Hudson certainly hasn't made the latter, but it's also a little too avant-garde and downbeat for the former. Instead, Straight No Chaser is a subtle and intelligent genre-straddling record that has the potential to cross over to pop, urban, and dance audiences alike.

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