Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Babyface: Face 2 Face [Arista, 2001]
Five years ago his best album exploited his superstar connections with cameos from Stevie, Mariah, Kenny G. Here he updates on a new label newly headed by his old partner with coproductions utilizing the Neptunes, Tim & Bob, Heavy D. Beat mechanics don't guarantee a thing, of course. But for all his platinum balladry, Kenny Edmonds has been funky on demand since the Deele, and the showcase tracks up front are as tricky as any to surface all year--just when you think you've balanced all five or six elements in your mind's ear, up pops number six or seven. He leaves the tricks behind eventually, if only so as not to alienate his normal market share, and after bottoming out briefly returns with enough ballads to make you stop humming "What If" until it goes platinum. A-