Masterpiece Theater

The results are spectacular and deranged ...

At last, the Queen/R&B girl group crossover. En Vogue were being funky divas back when people still called it New Jill Swing. After ten million sales and a three-year gap, a new twist was required if, in their late-30s, the surviving three of Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones and Cindy Herron were going to steal the edge from TLC and their glammy-assed hip-hop popette sisters.

Yo! A concept! Keep the deluge of super succulent harmonies intact and head for the highbrow hills. After one phat nu-Chaka Khan tune 'Riddle', a clever doo wop a cappella 'No, No, No (Can't Come Back)' and a twinkly ballad they go for it with a four-song 'suite' fusing film-score pianos, light and heavy opera and even Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite' on 'Love U Crazy'.

The results are spectacular and deranged ('Whatever Will Be Will Be' is almost Abba go classical) and even once the bow-tie operatics are over they stay inventive with the Miami inflections of 'Latin Soul' and the stoned Shirley Bassey style 'Beat Of Love'. Their absence of attitude in the lyrics lets them sound formulaic when they do straight R&B but nobody can beat En Vogue for vocal technique, and the rhapsodic experiments are neo-camp genius.

The only question that lingers is: how you get a chamber orchestra in a Lexus?
7 / 10

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