Jordin Sparks' post-Idol career hasn't been as bright as Kelly's or Carrie's, nor as fledgling as Fantasia's, mostly because the season six winner's self-titled debut was saved by the success of second single "No Air." It's fitting then that Sparks' follow-up, Battlefield, would go light on the R&B in favor of airy pop ballads, and light-rock uptempos, making it a traditional pop album at a time when pop music is anything but.
The album's title track is everything it needs to be. Taunting as it opens, ("Don't need to explain yourself, I know what's happened here"), pleading near the middle, ("If we can't surrender then we're both gonna lose what we have"), and aggressive toward the end ("Guess you better go and get your Armour"); all of which is delivered over a slick drum beat that turns the Ryan Tedder produced song into a pop-rock declaration. It sets the tone for an album that doesn't follow suit.
Where the title track is confident and engaging, the majority of Battlefield is naive and pleading. Second single, "S.O.S. (Let the Music Play)" begs you to dance, as Sparks mimicks Rihanna's pop disco swagger to less effect. Play it safe ballads "Let it Rain" and "Was I the Only One?" beg for clarity, while the cliched "Faith" asks you to feel inspired by its melodramatic writing set against an acoustic backdrop: "Cause when the sky is darkest you can see the stars." Throughout each song Sparks sounds capable, but restrained. She's an R&B singer trying to fit her husky vocals into a pop canon. They fit, but just barely.
It's when Sparks' voice is allowed room to breathe that Battlefield takes flight. The album's sole R&B affair "Don't Let it Go to Your Head," along with "It Takes More" have the relaxed urgency of Sparks' "Tattoo," with far more confidence. Piano driven ballad "No Parade," soars with remorse, in both lyrics and delivery. "Just another day like any other, nothing in the sky said run for cover...never thought it would end this way," she laments with all the sincerity lacking in the album's other ballads. Jordin does dance a bit better with the guitar strum of "Walking on Snow." Think Janet's "Someone to Call My Lover, " where pop flirts with country and a bit of disco then heads to the dance floor.
While Sparks never recreates the charm of the album's title track, Battlefield still manages to eclipse her debut in quality, and certainly suggests that she has a ton of potential for growth and longevity. Battlefield is a bit of a risk for Sparks, and that's at least refreshing if not always rewarding.
Listen to No Parade below, and drop-off a comment.