Diddy-Dirty Money, "Last Train to Paris" (Bad Boy/Interscope)
"Last Train to Paris" pulses with the sound of indifference. Diddy is a spectral presence on this album, the first release by the cumbersomely named concoction that pairs him with R&B singers Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper. He dives into songs, drops a few lines, shares a feeling or two, then disappears, having left barely a footprint.
This album was delayed long enough (at least two years) that the once lunatic idea of a Diddy-helmed dance record now feels like an anachronism. In that time R&B went to the nightclub, speeding up its tempos and digitizing its lotharios, from Usher to Taio Cruz. Even the idea of a hip-hop-R&B-dance hybrid feels outmoded now; the Black Eyed Peas beat Diddy to the punch there.
"Last Train to Paris" is not as techno as advertised. "I Hate That You Love Me," produced by Rodney Jerkins, is effectively a house record. But producers like Danja, 7 Aurelius and JLack display a fluency with the dance floor that was already evident in their more pop-oriented productions. The songs with the most impact are those that recall when Diddy was still Puffy. "Someone to Love Me" has a spare, mid-1990s hip-hop framework, and "Last Night Part 2," produced by Bad Boy stalwart Mario Winans, could have been made anytime in the past 15 years.
Diddy has never been much of a rapper -- he still isn't -- but he was always an effective motivator. And he still exerts an intense gravitational pull, importing Usher ("Looking for Love") and Chris Brown ("I Know") to emote in ways his voice won't allow, and inducing Justin Timberlake to rap on "Shades." Grace Jones appears, in shadows, on "Yeah Yeah You Would." The Notorious B.I.G. appears, resurrected, on "Angels," sharing airspace with Rick Ross.
"Last Train to Paris" has a secondhand feel. Once the sole auteur of ostentatious celebration, Diddy now watches as everyone parties around him, living his life before he gets the chance.
JON CARAMANICA, NEW YORK TIMES
Keri Hilson, "No Boys Allowed" (Interscope)
Hilson's second CD is full of pointed messages toward men. Don't look her way if you don't have money. Don't hate her because she's beautiful. Come back tomorrow; she's not finished with you.
Hilson gets a certain energy out of bossiness. "The Way You Love Me" goes pretty far for a mainstream female singer in its boasting and sexual hunger. But sometimes it seems as if it's Rihanna, not a man, she wants to boss around.
Although they both have thin voices, Hilson is the stronger singer and the more pedigreed writer. But Rihanna, with last year's "Rated R," has something big that Hilson probably wants: a narrative.
Hilson's album gives chase with reggae ("Bahm Bahm"); a song about an ambiguous relationship to lies (her "Lie to Me," versus Rihanna's collaboration with Eminem, "Love the Way You Lie"); an acoustic ballad (her "Hustler" versus Rihanna's recent "California King Bed"); and a duet with Rihanna's ex, Chris Brown. "One Night Stand" is a slow jam in which Brown plays the willing supplicant and Hilson the tamer with an imperious mixed message. That's the tenor of the CD: beckoning them with one hand, holding them off with the other.
Hilson's records aren't tipping toward bona fide dance music as much as Rihanna's. But a few songs here are good enough to stop the overthinking comparisons. One is "Pretty Girl Rock," produced by Ne-Yo and Chuck Harmony, four minutes of schoolyard singsong about her fabulousness. And the other, far better, is "Breaking Point," produced by Timbaland, with huge kick-drum sounds and funhouse soul caricatures. It's an ambitious performance, but Hilson still hasn't found the right context; the grabby, DayGlo production almost neutralizes her.
BEN RATLIFF, NEW YORK TIMES