o put it bluntly: This Is Me ... Then is kind of like if you go to a Long John Silver’s – you know you’re going to get a crappy meal, but you do your best to enjoy it with an open mind, because, god dammit, you just spent $3.67 on this fish and chicken platter. But the thing about that: while you’re getting fries and hushpuppies with it, you also get your complimentary “slaw.” No, not coleslaw, slaw. They aren’t gonna give you the real thing, they’re giving you a fake knock-off. That’s what this record is: carelessly generic and unoriginal, with little to no indication of Lopez’s actual involvement in the recording process.
Maybe I’m barking up the wrong alley though, and I’m sure Lopez fans will concur on that one. When you listen to her albums, you don’t look for revolutions in music, or even a lot of creativity. You look for what you expect and want to hear in this album. So let’s just leave that off to the side – I’m going to pretend I don’t even care that I’ve heard this record a million times before elsewhere.
But when you listen to this record by itself, removing the entire top 40 community out of your thinking, it’s all exactly the same. On this twelve-song record, two of the songs are the same ready-for-radio studio love song clunker (“The One” and its reprise with a hint of computer-sitar, “The One (Version 2)”), and seven share that exact same syrupy ballad tempo – slow (including, get this “Dear Ben,” an ode to her honey Affleck). God is this record tired-sounding – and let’s remember, we’re pretending we’ve never heard any of this stuff before.
Even on the first song, “Still,” you start to find problems. Casting aside the muzak-like rhythm section, you realize Lopez’s voice isn’t exactly all that. It’s whiney, timid, and her gaggle of backup singers have better pipes. When her nasally two-octave voice (she’s no Christina, much less a Britney) tries to hold out a “but the love still is here,” she has to stop after two measures. It becomes even more apparent how weak her voice is when you can hear the actual smoothing of her voice (on headphones, you can hear anything). It’s a disappointment surely, but it’s even more disappointing when you realize that a few more weeks in the studio may have yielded further work on ProTools with her voice or, gasp, multiple takes to get it just right. Perhaps her busy schedule didn’t allow for this, though.
Lyrcis wise, Lopez runs the gamut of thinly-veiled hot ‘n heavy (“our bodies read / I have to have you” or “it seems like I'm addicted to the way you like to touch me”) to generic sap (“like an angel out the sky you came / clearing up all the clouds / of sadness and the rain / so pure and healing was the love you bring”) to just plain awkward–sounding (“I think God made you for me / a mix of passionate fidelity”). However, there is a strength to these lyrics – even though Lopez doesn’t stray too far from the subject of love, it is clear that she has had a bit of bruising from her (ahem) relationships with P. Diddy and Cris Judd. Nonetheless, she’s writing more vulnerable lyrics, almost begging for love instead of her usual “I’m some really really hot shit” schtick.
The clear highlight from this disc is the leadoff single, “Jenny From The Block,” that sticks out like a sore thumb – this is obviously the completely dancey track the record label made the producers throw in as a hook for the public. Unfortunately, Lopez returns to her “I love myself” domain, and lines like “I'm down to earth like this / rockin' this business” don’t let you forget it. “I love my life and my public / put God first / and can't forget to stay real / to me it's like breathing, yeah” is another, and I won’t even go into how she stays real on Oprah, or when guests the Lox rap, in an effort for J-Lo’s street cred, “it takes talent to write checks.” The fun, fresh groove elevates this track above the rest of the album’s sub–Yoshimi beats, and is also the one that samples from not just KRS-One and Herbie Mann, but also the Beatnuts’ “Watch Out Now.”
That track, and a cover of Carly Simon’s “You Belong To Me” seem to be the best things on this disc, only because they aren’t completely slow and unexciting, and have a hook that you can sing along to without having awkward five–second breaks of nothing. But if this is the record J-Lo wanted to make, an album of sluggish love ballads, I commend her – or, more accurately, her producers. But to me, it’s languid, lifeless, and generic - or, more accurately, not what I want out of pop music.
Reviewed by: Sam Bloch
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01