How long before Lucy Pearl's self-titled debut reminds you its members--Raphael Saadiq, Dawn Robinson, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad--made their names with other bands, specifically and respectively, Tony Toni Toné, En Vogue, and A Tribe Called Quest? Oh, about two seconds. As his guitar noodles along "Lucy Pearl's Way," Saadiq instructs listeners that "this song simply says Tribe Called Quest, En Vogue, and Tony Toni Toné," then the music says it louder, with samples of his former band's "Ask of You" and Tribe's "Electric Relaxation," while Robinson sings a snippet of one of En Vogue's hits, "Hold On." Contrary to popular belief, that's not post-modern, it's post-shame; Jerry Bruckheimer films have more subtlety. I mean, it's one thing to build an ad campaign around the members' pasts, but a song? Jesus, it's like an infomercial for a band you're already listening to, preaching to a choir that's already dropped the $13 on the record. By the end, I was half expecting Saadiq to start listing the addresses of Web sites where you could find out more information about Tony Toni Toné, En Vogue, A Tribe Called Quest, and, of course, Lucy Pearl.Those would come in handy by the end of the album, because at that point, you'll wish you'd popped in a disc by any one of the members' former outfits instead. Lucy Pearl, at best, brings together the least important and most uninteresting parts of Tony Toni Toné, En Vogue, and A Tribe Called Quest--Robinson's show-boating theatrics, for instance, or Saadiq's kick-me-in-the-junk vocal tics. (Dude sounds like a ticklish 12-year-old girl.) At worst, it's just an excuse for the band--Saadiq especially, if the CD booklet is any indication--to wear silly cowboy hats. And for Muhammad, well, he gets to make the switch from full-time DJ to part-time bass player, or if you like, from Not That Important to Slightly More Important. He is, as Jason Lee's Jeff Bebe says in the forthcoming Stillwater (Cameron Crowe's new flick about a fictional band that's much more real than Lucy Pearl), "just one of the out-of-focus guys."
Lucy Pearl, both the album and the band, is a marginally good idea with shoddy execution, not unlike most Saturday Night Live-inspired movies. (A Night at the Roxbury? More like a week.) It's the rapidly fading echo of a party going on somewhere, the dull ache of a hangover forming. They even manage to tarnish what little silver lining there is: The few bright spots are hidden away, and they're gimmicks anyway--say, the marching-band version of current Hit Single "Dance Tonight" that's tacked on at the end completely unannounced, or the group's use of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Cry for the Bad Man" on the overdone "Hollywood." Even brief cameos by Snoop Dogg and former Tribe leader Q-Tip on "You" are wasted, sabotaged by quiet-storm keyboards that Luther Vandross apparently hasn't reported stolen yet and Saadiq's the-girl-is-mine routine, which hasn't sounded so fey and unbelievable since Michael Jackson tried to steal his lady friend back from Paul McCartney on Thriller. Better figure out a new genre, 'cause Lucy Pearl is R&B without the R or the B.