'm going to use a word to describe Cassie that's going to sound negative—confection. Cassie is possessed of a voice that's like candy: sweet, simple, and see-through-thin when you stretch it out like taffy. It cloys in large doses and if you tried to subsist on a diet of nothing else you'd end up on the floor with a stabbing pain in your gut.
Sometimes, though, there's nothing better in this world than a short, sharp rush of sugar. "Me & U," a bass-less, icy minimal techno burner shot through a strange inverted 80's robo-filter, has been a huge summer hit. Driving home late from work, I flipped the first time I heard it: ostensibly it’s a come-on, but Cassie sounds remote, almost disinterested—"I think I'm gonna make a move," but, you know, maybe I'll just watch my Lost DVDs instead. Two other tracks, both ostensibly from 2005, came to the surface in my subsequent research of the lass: "Just Friends" and "Miss Your Touch." It's telling that the latter is the only other redeemable track on Cassie and the former doesn't even make an appearance—though it's her best track by far. "Just Friends" finds Cassie discovering the way out of her saccharine-miasma—to come on with get-out-my-face-girl swagger, asskicking instead of kowtowing, and backed by a crew of multitracked Cassies on the chorus.
Then, there's the rest of the actual album. Within most of the songs, there's the kernel of a good idea. Sadly, that nugget tends to get swamped in a series of unfortunate developments—and, believe it or not, I don't know that we can blame Bad Boy directly. Everything here is produced and at least co-written by Ryan Leslie, Sonny to Cassie's Cher, and that's both a blessing and a curse. OK, it's mostly a curse—"Just Friends" (again, which isn't here) and "Miss Your Touch" work because they pair her wispy dynamics with stuttering disco-fried beats. Nearly everything else is an attempt to create a track in the minimal vein of "Me & U" and stumbles right over itself doing so. The more oddball experiments—the almost rocked-out backbeat of "What Do U Want" and the clip-pop "Ditto" come out so cutesy they're yak-worthy. When Leslie's production tries to get light and airy, perhaps to match Cassie's thin wisp of a voice, we run into serious trouble. Songs like "Just One Night" and "Not With You" come across as all feathers and no flight, relying on warm synth pads and acoustic guitar textures that just expose the weaknesses in Cassie's still-developing vocal presence.
A voice is something that's nurtured over time—developed through conflict and frustration while climbing the oft-arduous maze to the top. The path of Cassie's arrival is no mystery—she's a product of MySpace, downloads and click button-promotion (the key phrase here is ex-model). It's not impossible that Cassie can escape the hurried first-album syndrome and emerge as a talent to be reckoned with. When and if she does, just don't hold the fact that she has more in common with Lily A. than Mary J. against her.