Listening Party: 'Thong Song' hero Sisqo stages a shaky comeback on 'Last Dragon'

City Paper

Sisqó

“Last Dragon” 

(Massenburg Media/Dragon Music Group)

The man born Mark Althavean Andrews possesses one of the loudest and most distinctive voices to have come out of Baltimore, Maryland in our lifetime. Under his stage name, Sisqó, he fronted the vocal quartet Dru Hill as they ruled R&B radio in the late ’90s. And around the turn of the century, Sisqó briefly became a major solo star, his distinctive platinum blond dyed hair and the campy hit ‘Thong Song’ leaving an enduring pop-culture legacy.

A decade later, Sisqó and Dru Hill are still trying to reignite their once-powerful spark with independent releases. The group released a respectable reunion album, “InDRUpendence Day,” five years ago, and this week Sisqó follows with his third solo album, “Last Dragon.” On the lead single ‘A-List,’ Sisqó attempts to return to the forefront of mainstream R&B by pretending he never left. But that track, with its dated “trap” production and a guest verse by Waka Flocka Flame, an Atlanta rapper whose career peaked around 2010, doesn’t give much hope that Sisqó could sound current again in 2015. The follow-up ‘Lips,’ a spare piano-driven ballad, fared better, recently reaching #27 on Billboard’s Adult R&B chart.

Following in the footsteps of its two very different advance singles, “Last Dragon” is all over the map. Sisqó yells “turn up!” like a southern rapper on ‘Monsta.’ A few tracks later, ‘Round & Round’ takes him into Motown retro territory with spiraling strings and a stomping soul groove. The only song where the balance between Sisqó’s ear for R&B traditions and his attempts to stay current find a happy compromise is ‘Find Out,’ a midtempo club banger with a purring melody. The nadir of the album is ‘David Blaine,’ which invokes the famous illusionist to describe Sisqó’s wizardry in the bedroom (“magic tricks with my magic stick/ you’re gonna think my name is David Blaine”). The lyrical conceit is silly, but the same can be said of ‘Thong Song,’ which got by with a spirited vocal and impressive production. The bigger issue with ‘David Blaine’ is that the backing track is a cheap knockoff of the Beyoncé hit ‘Drunk In Love.’

Sisqó is still a proud son of Baltimore, and “Last Dragon” was largely produced by One Up Entertainment, a Baltimore-based team that had a hand in Adina Howard’s ’90s R&B classic ‘Freak Like Me’ as well as local hip-hop breakout star Bossman. In 2012, Sisqó appeared on ‘Gotta See It To Believe It,’ a track by Atlanta rap star Future and his Baltimore protégé Test. And more recently, ‘Thong Song’ was sampled by Baltimore rapper StarrZ for his single ‘DUMPS.’

When the other members of Dru Hill show up to help Sisqó out toward the end of “Last Dragon,” the group’s luxurious harmonies on ‘Victim’ sound so much fuller and more lovely than Sisqó’s on multi-tracked background vocals on earlier tracks that it casts an unflattering pall on the rest of the album. Sisqó’s raspy voice and unique look always made him the group’s obvious breakout star. But ‘Thong Song’ aside, his solo releases were rarely as memorable as the group efforts. And ‘Victim’ inadvertently serves as a better advertisement for Dru Hill’s upcoming album than for “Last Dragon” itself.

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