Hard to believe, but just last year Jennifer Lopez’s career looked like it was about to go Louboutins-up — possibly for good. After she flopped in theaters with The Back-up Plan and split with her longtime record label, Sony, the question mark in LOVE? (originally slated for release last spring) went from figurative to all-too-real. Then a rebooted American Idol started its annual search for a star — only to find one right at its own judges’ table. Gone was her old cut-a-bitch swagger; J. Lo 2.0 is an all-embracing, Oprahfied earth madre with enough new admirers to earn a top five hit (lead single ”On the Floor”).
Will those fans fall for LOVE? Probably. It’s a harmless collection of prefab dance pop with just enough hints of Latin spice to remind listeners of Jenny’s from-the-block past (see: the stoop-party-ready ”Papi”) without losing sight of her Bel Air present. She even doles out scraps of tabloid feed on ”One Love,” which seems to nod to her ex-fiancé Ben Affleck (”Went nowhere but kept the ring,” she sings). But most of the album is an utterly anonymous exercise in high-end sound production, as luxuriously empty as one of the new designer bags Lopez lusts after on the misleadingly named ”Good Hit.” And despite the star power she emits on screen, her vocals have always been less than stellar; on LOVE? she often sounds limited and nasal, with a flatness that can feel downright Rebecca Black-esque at its worst. So, if Lopez really wants a response to the album’s title question, the answer is: Let’s just be friends. C