Layered And Lacquered

Features appearances by Missy Elliott and Next.

The second album from quartet Destiny's Child is not your typical R&B fare. First off, it's miles ahead of current competition in terms of musical and vocal complexity and second: it's radio-friendly. In fact, from the standpoint of sheer listenability The Writing's On The Wall rivals TLC's hook-heavy Fan Mail and En Vogue's 1992 breakthrough Funky Divas.

A good deal of the album's success is due to its production. Hot R&B producer Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs contributed his skills, as did Brandy producer Rodney Jerkins and Missy Elliott—who phones in her "what-what-verse-two" vocals on "Confessions," an enjoyable midtempo ballad with vocals that jump from one- to two- to three- to four- part harmony with silky elegance. More than a few of the songs on the album ("Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Say My Name" are two) feature the four women singing in harmony over digital beeps and stop-start rhythms. While mostly engaging, the music occasionally overshoots into cacophony. But overload is rare, and most of the 16 tracks deliver solid harmonies, unique lyrical phrasing and solid musicianship. Imagine the live instrumentation of Babyface coupled with the space-age drum machines and keyboards of Timbaland.

The women of Destiny's Child share writing credit for most of the songs, while Beyonce handles the bulk of the vocal arrangements."So Good," (RealAudio excerpt) the album opener, is addressed to the band's critics and demonstrates to said critics that harmonizing well is the best revenge. Songs such as"Temptation"—which makes great use of the rhythm to the kiddie song "This Old Man"—and the Next duet "If You Leave" find the quartet in fine ballad form.

On a completely different note, the fast-paced vocal interplay of the

dance floor-ready song "Bug A Boo" reminds me a bit of the Andrews Sisters'

"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (probably not Destiny's intent). But

listen to them sing "'Cause your a bug a boo/You're buggin' what?/You're

buggin' who?/You're buggin me/And can't you see/it ain't cool?" and tell me

it doesn't remind you of the Andrews Sisters imitating a bugle horn.

"Bug A Boo" (RealAudio excerpt) is the only remotely familiar-sounding song on the album. And in a

world thick with female R&B vocalists it's nice to see (and hear) Destiny's Child take the high road by, you know, singing. Kudos to their production team for giving them something worth singing over.