Mikki Bleu

Gimme the Keys

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Mikki Bleu's Gimme the Keys begins with the title track, a scratchy new jack swing number that arrives complete with a Heavy D-style rap breakdown. Together with the album's beckoning cover art, "Gimme the Keys" tries to establish Bleu as a sensitive, yet confident, lover man who's as attentive as he is macho. "You need a real man who'll understand," he sings with his silky, Larry Blackmon-style delivery. And he's believable, especially with the support of tight, expressive production that makes good use of sampling. But lack of imagination threatens to trip Bleu up before he can even think about closing the deal. "Whenyadowhatchado" and "Good 2 U" feature a similarly modern sound -- rousing, slithering hip-hop drum programming supported by spare synth melodies and sampled funk vocalists saying things like "Hey!" and "Oh!" The problem is, by "Good 2 U"'s third minute, Bleu's desire to treat his lady right has been restated countless times with no resolution. The too-similar (and too long) "Be With U" follows, wasting its snazzy keyboards on impossibly repetitious lyrics. It starts to sound like a suddenly unconfident Bleu needs to stop for directions. He leads a gospel-flavored singalong on the optimistic, infectious "Stand," but settles for more wayward blustering during the balladic portion of Gimme the Keys. Bleu certainly seems sincere about his lovemaking propositions and implorations for his woman to stay. And "I-O-U Love" does let him unleash his powerful voice a bit. But the surefooted confidence of the album's title track never returns. This is why the record ultimately falls short of new jack greatness. Guy's 1988 debut and Tony! Toni! Toné!'s Revival succeeded because their blend of influence was more seamless, the songs themselves more multi-dimensional. Inside a sound as rigid and potentially vapid as new jack, these were essential qualities for survival. Gimme the Keys resolves that Bleu's producers are good mechanics. And Mikki himself proves he can take the keys and drive. But he has no sense of direction or time, and that makes the journey trying.

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