There's nothing a reviewer likes better than an album full of lyrics with big ideas. We love wrestling with weighty issues, digging deep for profound tidbits, and showing off just how smart an album (and a critic) can be. But if we're honest about it, the most pleasurable albums often find the words taking a backseat to the music, offering a sound so alluring that it's easy to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream. Albums like Des'ree's drop-dead-gorgeous Supernatural.
Blessed with a voice as dark and smooth as chocolate syrup, the British-born singer made her mark four years ago with the supremely catchy ''You Gotta Be.'' The songs on Supernatural have many of the same qualities as that hit strong melodies, engaging grooves, powerfully understated singing but greatly increase their impact. Some of that has to do with the lush, vivid settings, which tend toward such ear candy as the burbling acoustic guitar in ''Down by the River'' or the tapestry of guitars, strings, and percussion in ''God Only Knows.''
Mostly, though, the album's appeal stems from the warmth and luster of Des'ree's singing. Whether she's testifying to the inner strengths that make her ''Proud to Be a Dread'' or rattling off her insecurities in the drolly upbeat ''Life,'' Des'ree conveys a depth and complexity that go well beyond what's on the lyric sheet. It isn't just that she's so versatile, moving easily from the sexy purr of ''What's Your Sign?'' to the throaty emotionalism of ''I'm Kissing You''; she's also a master of inflection, handling each phrase with the knowledge that what matters is not what the song says, but how she sings it. (How else could she make her version of Springsteen's ''Fire'' smolder so?)
Supernatural is so rich in sonic delights that it's almost tempting to ignore the words entirely. Don't. Des'ree's lyrics may not all be pearls of wisdom, but there's a common-sense intelligence to what she says that makes the likes of ''Best Days'' and ''Time'' quietly inspiring. Not to mention exquisitely listenable. B+