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Released: 18th June 2001.

Various - Urban Renewal featuring The Songs Of Phil CollinsAll the hot names in urban music have gathered to cover... Phil Collins! Surprising as it might seem, Collins' recordings are among the most sampled works in the R&B / hip-hip world, and that's why somebody at a record company had this idea to make a whole album worth of groovy covers.

Was it a good plan though? Here's a track-by-track review that might give you an answer to this question.

After you hit "play," the intro by Ray J, "Ray J Prelude", gradually fills the room, building the right atmosphere for the first song...

Another Day In Paradise - Brandy & Ray J
The R&B icon Brandy helps to launch her brother's career by dueting on what is one of Phil Collins' biggest hits. The orignal melody has been kept, the new production is hot, and the vocals - typically for Brandy - original in their charming huskiness. Ray J, if you haven't heard him before, sounds like a male version of Brandy, which can't be bad! The song, released also as a single, is a perfect opener for the album and one of its highlights, too.

Sussudio - Ol' Dirty Bastard
Here comes the first upbeat funky tune and it is kept in the catchy style of the original, with top rapping from one of hip-hop's most significant rappers, Ol' Dirty Bastard. The hard-hitting production is a definite improvement over the original! Another single maybe?

Something Happened On The Way To Heaven - Deborah Cox
The lady with one of the most powerful vocals in the urban world has taken up this big ballad and made it really interesting, thanks to the numerous vocal acrobatics. The very smooth background vocals that contrast with Deborah's lead are worth your attention too!

This Must Be Love - Dane Bowers (from Another Level) feat. Kelis
Things speed up slightly on this unusual duet. Dane doesn't strain his vocals and sounds like a credible R&B singer (why not do the same with your solo tracks, Dane?) And Kelis? The typical scarce ad libs make her part sound even more interesting. Overall it's a pleasant album track.

In The Air Tonight - Lil' Kim feat. Phil Collins
Now here comes the killer. Lil' Kim, sampling the vocals of Phil Colins himself, created what is the best song on the album. It's the catchiest and the grooviest hip-hop song I've heard in ages. The rapping goes perfectly with the hit production, and the whole thing goes great with Phil Collins. A must have!

Gotta Hold Over Me (Easy Lover) - Coko
The SWV's first lady delivers this sexy slow song... Not having heard the original, I can't possibly imagine Phil Collins singing it! Enticing little number that any R&B artist would be proud of having on their album.

I Don't Care Anymore - Kelis
Kelis is back for another track, this time a more lively one, slightly violent even, with all the trademark shouting. In spite of the harder moments, the song has a great overall feel.

Can't Turn Back The Years - Joe
When I was listening to this for the first time, I couldn't stop being in awe of Joe's vocals that carry the melody as naturally as if it was written especially for him. The original is a great ballad, however Joe took it to another, deeper, dimension. Simply beautiful.

Do You Remember - Debelah Morgan
The US R&B singer, with a litle help from Stargate, delivers this vocally dynamic tune. In spite the fact that Debelah's vocals are accompanied only by the drum and base section during the verses, there is no doubt about feeling the melody. The electric piano joins in the bridge, and the chorus sees the background vocals and the rest of the backing instruments enter, creating a nice, very urban, rendition of "Do You Remember".

Against All Odds - Montell Jordan
Remember the song that Mariah covered a couple of years ago, to then ruin it by dueting with Westlife? Well, Montell Jordan took a proper gospel choir to join him, and what a great decision it was. It's more R&B than the Mariah version and it finishes in a nicer way too.

One More Night - Changing Faces
Here's an example that you can take the same melody, sing it in a slightly different way, produce it in a very different way to have a totally different song in result! At first it didn't sound right, but after getting used to it, it's possible to appreciate the other face of it. Not bad at all.

All My Life - TQ
TQ sticks to the original a bit more than Changing Faces, and makes a really good use of his somewhat cheerful-sounding vocals. The serious lyrics could potentially make many people feel not exactly ecstatic, but TQ does a great job of singing them in a light-hearted way. The song has a "Life's a Rollercoaster" kind of feel (that's meant as a compliment!).

I Wish It Would Rain Down - Brian McKnight
If you expect this to be as spectacular and powerful as the original, you'll be very disappointed. Brian McKnight practically has changed the song completely, since it sounds nothing like it should. This, so far, great album has a slight downside too!

Take Me Home - Malik Pendelton
Not having heard of this artist before I have to say he might not sound totally original, but it's definitely nice what he's done. The quiet ballad is sung by Malik only at first, to be later made into a gospel-tinged number. A great closing track.

Overall, the album's better than I had expected. Almost every song is extremely catchy and it's easy to see the artists involved did a great job of mixing their own style and the classic melodies. A great CD to have in your collection.

* * * * (Aneta Janssen)

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