Mica Paris

By John McAlley

Has a hunger for love undone Mica Paris? When the 21-year-old British pop-soul stylist first toured the United States in 1989, her natural vocal gifts were obscured by a stage persona that, when greeted by mild audience indifference, turned aggressive and grating. Similarly, when Paris's impressive debut LP, So Good, was imported after its breakthrough success in the U.K., the record's winning retro luster—which at its best evoked the timeless pop collaborations between Dionne Warwick, composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David—was lost in a remix whose hard beats were intended to satisfy American tastes.

For her second go-round, Contribution, Paris has teamed with Brooklyn writers-producers Camus Celli and Andres Levin, recasting herself in their young, funky image. And on "Contribution," the righteous, pulsating opening track, she does achieve something appealing. On top of an uncanny Clinton-cum-Jazzy B. groove, and with the help of American rapper Rakim, Paris pleads for "One world united/All shades invited," setting up expectations of an album that speaks to issues of political, racial and interpersonal harmony in the compelling language of contemporary black pop.

But despite a couple of midtempo message songs ("Who Can We Blame," "Truth & Harmony"), a token world-beat workout ("Deep Afrika") and a handful of stimulating grooves (including killers from Prince and Mantronik), Contribution is, ironically, distinguished by its many numbing portraits of female subjugation. The regressive images of pliant, pining distaff lovers are as blunt as the song titles: "Just Make Me the One," "Just to Be With You," "I've Been Watching You," "I Can't Stop Loving You," "If I Love U 2 Nite." That most of these tunes were penned by men makes Paris's complicity doubly disturbing. That they are bracketed by the affirmative, forward-looking title track and its faux-inspiriational reprise, "One World," makes the album's pretenses a sham.

Dionne Warwick sang "Don't Make Me Over" in 1962. Paris would do well to take to heart al the meanings of that message.