For a time in the mid-Nineties, it was all about SWV. Taj, LeLee and Coko were the ghetto fabulous princesses of R&B. Boasting gospel-trained vocals and a keen fashion sense (highlighted by Coko’s dragon-lady nails,) the Sisters With Voices lit up the R&B charts with hits like “Weak” (which was a #1 pop hit) and “Right Here/Human Nature.” Their 1993 debut album, It’s About Time, was a multi-platinum success. Three albums (including a holiday effort) later, they were history. Coko made one moderately successful solo album, then re-emerged a few years later as a gospel artist. The remaining members of SWV stayed off the radio for a short time and eventually surfaced on reality shows including “Survivor.” Now, a decade and a half after releasing their last album, SWV are back with I Missed Us, and it finds the ladies happily picking up almost exactly where they left off.
I probably sound like a broken record when talking about comeback albums by classic R&B artists, but it’s nice to know that SWV haven’t gone the safe route to get onto modern urban radio. There aren’t any attempts at Euro-club music, there’s no overtly sexual material (even though SWV kinda were ahead of that particular curve, I’m pretty sure Coko put the no-no on anything too racy this time around,) and there are very few modern production tricks (although there is some relatively dignified usage of Auto-Tune.) Truthfully, with the exception of some modern slang usage, someone who didn’t hear SWV’s second and third albums could’ve easily been convinced that I Missed Us was It’s About Time’s follow-up.
Writers/producers Bryan-Michael Cox (who has written for R&B’s elite for years) and Cainon Lamb (an associate of Missy Elliott’s who has worked extensively with Monica, among others) deliver a solid set of melodically sound, lyrically substantial songs. The vocals are a lot less Coko-intensive than on past albums, and spotlight LeLee and Taj as strong vocalists in their own right. The set’s equally balanced between midtempo hip-hop flavored jams like first single “Co-Sign” and romantic slow jams like “Love Unconditionally.” The ladies even reference their hitmaking era several times, quoting Hi-Five’s “I Like The Way (The Kissing Game),” Jodeci’s “Come & Talk To Me” and their own “Right Here” on separate songs.
Truth be told, I’m a little surprised to be so happy to hear a new album from SWV after all this time. Maybe part of the reason for my happiness is nostalgia, but I Missed Us is still pretty solid for a record by an group that’s been out of the picture for a decade and a half (especially if you remember the fact that their last album, 1997’s Release Some Tension, was pretty awful.) I guess I missed them as much as they missed…them.