Judging from ”The Writing’s on the Wall,” the second album from Destiny’s Child (out July 27), the Houston quartet (Beyoncé, LaTavia, LeToya, and the unimaginatively monikered Kelly) prove themselves to be more capable of confident, inventive R&B than many of their contemporaries. Though Briggs is joined by a slew of trendy producers (including Missy Elliott and Rodney Jerkins), ”Wall” still manages to avoid sounding like a mere rehash of other people’s hits. With a snaky lead vocal that slithers around staccato harmony parts, the aptly titled album opener ”So Good” coolly mixes restrained production and playful melody. ”Bills, Bills, Bills,” the first single, is a sort of companion piece to ”No Scrubs,” taking on guys who seem perfect but turn into jerks once they get comfortable in a relationship. And ”If You Leave,” a duet with male vocal trio Next, is an ambitious collaboration that delivers despite its potentially lethal abundance of voices.
”Wall” gets bogged down by too much banal balladry (”Stay,” ”Sweet Sixteen”), proving Destiny’s Child to be capable of sounding exactly like any other group of snooze-inducing slow-jammers. But more often they recognize the difference between extremes of pitch and extremes of passion, a distinction lost on many R&B balladeers. Destiny’s Child have learned a thing or two from the Supremes, singers who knew how to use a well-placed pause or a quietly sung harmony to maximum effect. No, they haven’t managed to reach that lofty level on ”Wall,” but if you’re casting ”Motown ‘99,” the album’s worth a listen. Its best stuff is close enough to the spirit of the Supremes to at least win them a callback.