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Fall Album Roundup : Jesse: Pedestrian Crossing

November 23, 1986|RICHARD CROMELIN

"SHOCKADELICA." Jesse Johnson. A&M. The Clintonesque album title is as misleading as Johnson's reputation as a young R&B renegade. In fact, that whole Minneapolis funk-pop vanguard is having a rough year, from Prince to Morris Day to Johnson, who has followed his promising debut with a comparatively colorless collection.

Prince might have faltered with his "Under the Cherry Moon" film fiasco, but he still serves as the all-too-obvious role model for the impressionable Johnson, whose coy coo, twangy timbre and synth-horns funk all recall the Princely sound. If that's not enough, Johnson also spells words funny, does a tune called "Baby Let's Kiss" that's sure to bring Prince's "Kiss" to mind, and concludes the album with the high contrast of a sincere, anthemic ballad. Just like "Cherry Moon."

What he doesn't borrow from Prince is steamy sexuality and forceful personality. The singer-guitarist projects a certain flirtatiousness--you can almost feel the breeze from his eyelashes--but it's pretty mild, and the music rarely gets above the pedestrian level of formula Twin Cities funk.

Sly Stone's guest vocal on the lean, tough "Crazay" brings some rambunctious life to the record, and Sly's influence seeps into the nearby blues/gospel testifying of "Better Way." Johnson's vocal imparts a winning vulnerability to the loose, limber, on-my-own affirmation "Do Yourself a Favor," but from there it's pretty workmanlike until the startling shift into sweet, acoustic-guitar anthemizing of "Black in America," in which Johnson declares that stardom won't keep him from fighting for racial equality. It's a little pretentious, but it has the kind of originality and conviction he needs to call on more often.

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