Victoria Monét has perfectly figured out how to trigger our penchant to reminisce on soul and R&B's almost mythic past without falling into parody, cosplay or camp. JAGUAR II strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and honest-to-goodness quality music.
There was an instant connection as soon as the first few notes came through my headphones. Does Monét have a voice that’s going to blow your speakers (or even move you to shout)? Not really. However, she has a very pretty voice that compliments the ease in her delivery and the music that surrounds her. While impressive that she has the old-school mentality of performance (rigorous dance doesn’t disrupt the fundamentals of the vocal performance, breath control and truly knowing one’s voice), I needed more substance than that to really be interested. As is most common with any sort of popular artist, her album does so much more than her single and public appearances do.
There are a great deal of interesting musical choices (songs like “Smoke (Reprise),” “Party Girls”), and her voice has a tone not dissimilar to Sade: minimal vibrato with a rich tone that errs on softer but still carries a significant amount of weight. She doesn’t work too hard, her voice is easy to listen to, and the few that have mastered this type of softer delivery historically (Janet, Sade, Aaliyah) and those who can get away with it now (Jhené, Aya, Summer) have managed to add emotional weight to their lighter tones. Monét falls within that same category.
While I’m not sure I can give her full credit for the frankly beautiful composition and production choices in JAGUAR II, her voice fits it so well that one must acknowledge her ear and her ability to find music that compliments her rather than drowns her out. Tracks like “How Does It Make You Feel,” with its homage to ’70s soul and R&B (shades of Elder Stevie with The Spinners, Chi-Lites and The Emotions rounding out the heavy nostalgia), “I’m the One” and “Stop (Askin’ me 4Shyt)” illustrate her symbiosis with the music, and that appeals to me.
JAGUAR II is a pretty album with some simple, familiar lyrical content but an intriguing compositional foundation and a strong vocal performance. P.S. I will always appreciate younger generations showing veneration for the artists that paved the way for them. Kudos for Monét for not only having the brass ones to ask Earth, Wind & Fire to feature, but of having the foresight and respect to know that their voices would elevate her sound 50-fold.