Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Waiting to Exhale [Arista, 1995]
With the shining exception of Aretha Franklin and the dim one of Chaka Khan, none of this amazing array of divas is funny, honest, introspective, or original enough to sustain an entire album--not matriarch Patti LaBelle or B-girl Mary J. Blige or new jills SWV or sexpots TLC, not Toni or Brandy or Whitney herself. And since producer-songwriter Babyface has always been kind of soft as well, it's not as if they suddenly equal Billie Holiday, singly or collectively. But because they're enough like each other to flow and enough unlike each other to put the music through some changes, this stands as a stirring showcase for a sensibility. Proudly pliant, mucous membranes at the ready, the one woman they fuse into isn't quite a virtuoso even when she has the chops, because that would distract from her business, which is pleasure. Anyway, it's her skills that count, not her chops. A-