Justifiably more focused on his acting these days, Jamie Foxx has stepped away from the forefront of popular music for a while. You’d even be forgiven for expecting some rustiness on his fifth and latest album. But the heights of Foxx’s music career are too recent — and, in many cases, too good — to fade from memory just yet. Beginning with his “Slow Jamz”/”Gold Digger” days (if not Peep This, his 1994 debut), continuing with “Blame It”, and on to his best LP, 2010’s Best Night of My Life, we’ve known that Foxx has legitimate musical talent. On Hollywood: A Story of a Dozen Roses, he strives to keep the public’s belief in his versatility alive.
Given the sort of music he makes — sensual R&B intended to compete with today’s most high-profile artists — Foxx, at the age of 47, needed to work particularly hard to sound relevant on this album. Fortunately, it does have a convincing now-ness. Part of that’s automatic: Foxx enlisted much younger guest vocalists like Chris Brown, Wale, and Kid Ink, not to mention producers like Pharrell and Boi-1da. But Foxx himself consistently delivers confident vocal performances, bringing tightly packed hooks and a lot of sexual energy. He and Brown are a giddy duo on the first proper song, the kinetic “You Changed Me”. The lights-down slow-burner “Like a Drum” manages to sell its corny hook (“I’m gon’ beat it like a drum/ Bom bom bom bom”). The propulsive drums of “Tease” give away Pharrell’s involvement before he even has the chance to whisper “Come on” in the opening seconds. These and other songs share an evocative sheen that (needless to say) goes down much smoother than Foxx’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight earlier this month.
Despite its musical energy, the album’s emotionality starts to wane due to a lack of revelations. Desire is the potent overarching theme, but the lyrics can be cliched and nonspecific. Maybe Foxx, a superstar, thinks the average person wouldn’t be able to identify with certain aspects of his life if he were to spell them out, but ultimately, the album could use fresher ideas. Look at the central symbol: a bouquet of flowers bought for a woman. Meanwhile, the love-as-drug concept of “Another Dose” is almost as worn. Hollywood offers few surprises, leaving listeners with memorable hooks and impressive sonics but little information about the man at the center of it all.
Essential Tracks: “Like a Drum”, “Tease”