R&B crooner Craig David took his native England by storm last year. He became Britain’s youngest solo artist ever (at 19) to have a number one hit, and kicked a UK dance craze called two-step into the mainstream by releasing some clever collaborations with two-step DJ/producers Artful Dodger. In the wake of all this, David’s US debut, the smugly titled Born to Do It, has been riding such a huge wave of hype that unless the poor kid is the next Marvin Gaye, he’s bound to fall short of expectations.
Well, Craig David may be able to give Sisqo a run for his money, but Marvin Gaye he ain’t. Blessed with one of those smooooooth R&B tenors, David definitely makes you sit up and take notice. But his youthful inexperience shows through on this disc in too many places, and while Born to Do It has a few nice moments, it’s hardly the next big thing.
The album leads off with David’s big single, “Fill Me In”, a catchy ditty about a guy trying to date a girl with nosy parents. “Fill Me In” has been a pretty big stateside hit for David, and with good reason – it’s a terrific pop song, with clever lyrics, a bouncy chorus, and an unusual start-stop rhythm that’s sort of a slowed down version of two-step. And unfortunately, nothing else on Born to Do It really equals it.
Much of the problem is with David’s songwriting, which is charmingly earnest but filled with make-out music cliches and paper-thin melodies. Take just one example, from “Rendezvous”: “I’m just sitting here daydreaming about you and all the things you do / Girl feels so right / And all I know is you’re the one for me, that special kinda lady / In my life”. Only a good-looking 19-year-old can impress the ladies with lyrics like that. And only someone with a voice as smooth and supple as David’s can get away with penning so many meandering, tuneless bedroom numbers. Songs like “Last Night”, “7 Days” and “Follow Me” blend into one giant soup of multi-note croons, tongue-twisting scats and some truly lame-ass raps (“I met this girl with brown eyes / Made my moves, showed enterprise / That Craig David’s on the rise”).
But by far the biggest problem with Born to Do It is the production, which comes courtesy of the Artful Dodger’s Mark Hill. With the exception of the closing track, the Dodger/David two-step club hit “Rewind”, Hill’s mixes are so laid-back, so polished, that they’re almost elevator music. David’s voice is undermiked and lacks punch, and the arrangements are formulaic, beginning almost without fail with a muffled b-boy rap (that always manages to drop Craig David’s name), followed by an aimless guitar or string riff and a slow, shuffling beat. That much of Born to Do It‘s drowsy, repetitive vibe can be blamed on Hill is evident when you get to “Fill Me In (Part 2)”, a completely different song that features the most non-Hill production of any track on the record. Here, Wayne Lawes’ much funkier drums and bass give the track much-needed heft, and Rickardo Reid’s jazzy organ licks have more soul than a million of Hill’s chiming acoustic guitars. Even David’s voice, as recorded by Lawes, is gutsier, and his lyrics, as if rising to the occasion, suddenly regain their creative spark — “I’ll be all over your body / Like chocolate over a turkish delight”.
Already, David’s British R&B invasion appears to be over — as I write this, Born to Do It is descending the Billboard charts, perhaps proving that despite our Britney and *NSync fixations, Americans actually do have better taste in dance pop than our British counterparts. If David can mature as a songwriter and find a better producer, we may hear from him again. Until then, he’ll go down on these shores as a one-hit wonder.