I'll start by acknowledging that the group's self-titled debut album was far from perfect or groundbreaking. In fact, safe and comfortable would probably be better words to describe it; but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. While "Show Stopper" shamelessly capitalized on the tail end of the snap-music craze that dominated much of 2006, it did so quite well; if only because of the ladies' vocal delivery alone. Aundrea effortlessly carried what could have been the aurally tedious "Hold Me Down" away from frantic, and closer to charming; while the Bryan Michael Cox produced "Ride for You" gave Dawn and D. Woods their chance to shine over the ballad's piano-driven plea for love gone stale. These tracks, along with the other 10 or so that complete the set, were play-by-the-numbers and radio ready. With that in mind, it's understandable that the girls would want to take a few risks the second time around, but their efforts hardly pay off.
This time the girls abandon any semblance of R&B that may have previously influenced their sound, and instead opt for a purely pop driven experience. That bothers me, but not enough to avoid giving the album a fare chance. Realistically, if the ladies ever hope to become the international superstars that I'm sure was listed under "job description" on their Making the Band audition applications, they have to be as commercially viable as possible. There's a reason Rihanna's "Umbrella" isn't just available on iTunes, but also at most fine department stores, complete with a matching tote, and free sample of Usher: For Men (yeah, I'm gonna leave that one alone…). I won't fault the ladies for following trends, but I will call them out for falling completely flat.
"Dollhouse" reeks of desperation, as if every song is begging to be considered single material, but inevitably fails to deliver. Most of the production screams "been there, done that, and Britney paid more for it." Save a few flawless harmonies, the vocals sound rigid and restrained, as if the ladies are afraid to overshadow the beat. And the lyrics seem as if they were jacked straight from the diary of a sexually frustrated 15-year-old girl, as evident on the Missy assisted and embarrassingly lame "Bad Girl:"
"When the red light comes on, I transform. Maybe I'm just a bad girl."
The almost mid-tempo/almost dance track "Key to Your Heart" is awkward and forced, while Rick Ross does more harm than good on the otherwise decent "Extasy." The girls try their hand at writing in "Sucka for Love," yet the track still feels boring and predictable.
However, the album isn't all bad. Lead single "Damaged" is as fun as the rest of the album should be. The Stereotypes (Marques Houston's Wonderful) produced track is flirty, with an infectious beat; one of the few songs on the album where producer and artist complement each other, instead of competing. In "Striptease" the girls finally trade sleazy in for a sexiness that suggests womanly confidence instead of girly bravado. Hands down, the highlight of "Dollhouse" is the subtle ballad "Poetry;" mostly because these girls can sing (Dawn, Aundrea and D. Woods…Aubrey on occasion, and who's the one chick?), and this song gives them the chance to finally let their vocals breathe.
Oddly enough, the album's interludes hint at what could easily be album standouts if given more time to shine. Check for "Secret Place" and "Flashback," and I'm confident you'll agree.
"Welcome to the Dollhouse" isn't' awful, but it's far from good, and it brings into question the potential of an arguably solid girl-group that managed to make the transition from television fodder to nearly plausible entertainers (I wouldn't call them artists just yet). The bottom line is that Danity Kane is better than "Dollhouse," and the ladies better pray for some hot remixes.
Also, don't release a dance album if you can't dance. That is all.
DL: Poetry, Damaged