March 23, 2006

CD Review: Wicked Wisdom - Wicked Wisdom

So, Jada Pinkett-Smith thinks she's metal, huh? Honestly, when I first read that Jada was fronting a music act, and that act was a metal band, I honestly thought it was a joke. How could I not? The actress wife of nice guy rapper/bad boy actor sang metal? Sounded like April Fool's day came early. Then I read that she played a few dates with Ozz-fest. The plot thickens. I can say I did not believe this was real until the CD arrived on my doorstep.

The first thing to strike you about the disk is the simplistic cover. The band name is printed in a scratchy font in the bottom third of the image. The most dominant portion is the arched snake, which casts an abstract shadow that looks like a "W," the remainder of the image is just a layer of sand. It is initial eye-catching in its simplicity, but in the end it is a rather dull cover.

The next step is to actually open the uninspiring case and listen to the music, and that's what I did. My initial reaction was one of shock. The opening track, "Yesterday Don't Mean," opens with a raw guitar riff, which is quickly joined by a jackhammer doublebass, before Jada's voice comes in barking the lyrics. The song was borderline hardcore. We were off to a promising start, this could prove to be a bit of a sleeper, you know, nothing earth shattering, but surprisingly good. The big question was, could they keep it up? Granted, the lyrical content didn't smack of anything terribly original, but not awful.

The second track, "Something Inside of Me," continues the promise of the first track. A speedy chugga-chugga gallop opens up while Jada's sings in this clipped monotone. The sound of her voice is equally haunting and mesmerizing, singing about the evils and effects of child abuse. I hate to admit it, but I am sort of liking this, I know I probably shouldn't, but everyone has their faults. That is followed up by "One," another song featuring Jada singing in a clipped monotonous pattern over another heavy riff. The lyrical repetition and delivery pattern really sucked me, I found my head rocking to the combined guitar and vocal cues.

The fourth song, "Bleed All Over Me," breaks from the absolutely relentless form of the opening trio, allowing the guitars and drums open up a bit more while Jada's voice sores a little higher. This has some nice music progression, but begins to expose the limited range of her voice. That is followed by "Cruel Intentions," which is a structural combination of the prior song and the earlier clipped style. It works well, but is ultimately a mediocre track.

Let me be clear about something regarding this album, it is not terribly good. It is an interesting novelty, but I am sure it will get no more than the occasional play. I am more apt to pick a song or two for a playlist than I am to desire to submit to the album in its entirety. You may not come to that conclusion based on what I have said already, and I mean it all. This disk is surprising in how infectious it can be for no reason whatsoever.

There are flashes of excellence strewn throughout, particularly in the opening trio. It is refreshing to see a celebrity attempt to crossover to another art form and try to do something with it. It is obvious that Jada is an amateur at writing lyrics, not that I could do any better (I have enough trouble getting critical words from my head to the screen). Generally the words are obvious and lack much in the way of subtlety. Despite the lackof true originality in her words, it was refreshing to glean the positive bent they had, amidst the requisite sound of anger and foul lanuage lies a generally positive message in the music. I admire her for being willing to put herself out there in a world which she had to know would most likely be resistant to her, be it her husband, herself, her music. Metal, especially in the current fickle atmosphere, is hard to break into, and harder to get a real fan base.

Jada helped herself by surrounding herself with a good group of musicians. Pocket Honore, on guitars, lays down some nicely heavy riffs to carry the bulk of the load, not much of a solo guy, but his riffs are generally good. More importantly, is their drummer, Fishbone founding member Phillip "Fish" Fisher is back there driving the rhythmic groove. Then there is Jada, herself. She doesn't have the most impressive of voices, but she seems to know her limits and work within them. I particularly like the clipped monotone employed early on.

Bottomline. Who knew Jada had it in her? Not a bad debut. I can honestly say that I was surprised at how much I was entertained. As a metal fan I feel I have to say that with reservations, as, despite my enjoyment, there is nothing terribly special here and I doubt I would go out of my way to follow her music career. I am glad, nonetheless, to have gotten to check this out.

Mildly Recommended. **.5 / *****

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