By the time she released Flame in 1997, Patti LaBelle had settled into a comfortable, reliable groove. Following her mid-'80s comeback, LaBelle gradually moved toward a neo-sophisticated, laid-back, adult contemporary style that only occasionally touched on urban soul. Which means Flame is largely a slick, seductive collection of ballads punctuated by a handful of restrained dance-pop numbers. And in that sense, it's no different than any of her '90s albums, but that isn't a bad thing, since LaBelle works with top-notch, classy professionals. A team of producers -- including David Foster, Gerald LeVert, Arif Mardin and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis -- worked on Flame, but instead of making the album sound diverse and sprawling, their highly skilled craftsmanship keeps the album unified. All that effort makes the record a pleasurable, listenable album, yet there aren't enough killer hooks or great songs to make it a standout in LaBelle's catalog. Instead, Flame is merely a good Patti LaBelle record, and sometimes that's all you need.
by Leo Stanley