We can now add to the annals of steamy album covers — a legacy that dates back at least to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’ Whipped Cream & Other Delights (1965) and extends to any number of Carly Simon and Mariah Carey covers — the musical debut of Jennifer Lopez. On the front of On the 6, the actress-diva-turned-singer-diva pouts fetchingly in little more than gold-lame panties and a clingy mesh shirt. If that’s not contrived enough to make consumers of all nationalities do double takes in record stores, On the 6 also boasts a very top-shelf lineup of producers, songwriters, and collaborators, from Puff Daddy and R&B producer of the moment Rodney Jerkins to Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony, all recruited to add heft to Lopez’s career makeover.
As soon as Lopez opens her mouth, though, all this advance work falls by the wayside. On record, the husky-voiced voluptuousness that has become Lopez’s trademark in films like Out of Sight simply vanishes. Her voice is higher and thinner than expected — not embarrassing, but sadly ordinary, like a younger, even blander sibling of Estefan.
Unfortunately, that voice is a perfect match for the prissy, soft-focus ballads and tame dance pop that dominate On the 6. From rap to shrilly Latin workouts to the type of hip-hop R&B ballads done better by TLC, everything here feels neutered for maximum crossover consumption. (”Jenny, you da bomb,” goes a shout-out in the tepid, Puffy-produced hip-hop confection ”Feelin’ So Good.”) Lopez continually plays the role of heartbroken, compliant female, eager to hold on to her man at whatever price. Even her orgasmic Spanish moan at the end of ”Should Have Never” isn’t as arousing as the album’s cover.
At least one track, the club-hopping ”Waiting for Tonight,” is worthy of a dance-floor diva, and the inevitable remix should sound even better. But On the 6 (named after the subway line that runs from Lopez’s native Bronx to Manhattan) proves that in the current rush to assimilation, Latin talents can be made to sound as conventional as the most rote pop acts. (In the year 2020, this album will be part of someone’s doctoral thesis on the dangers of crossover.) For all the wads of money spent on her fledgling musical career, Lopez comes across as little more than a Mild Spice Girl. C