Talk about a long gap between albums! "Guy III" arrives a full decade after the group's sophomore effort, "The Future," and a dozen years after Guy's seminal debut. Seminal because founder/producer/multi-instrumentalist Teddy Riley used the group's first album, "Guy," to introduce new jack swing, a melding of traditional R&B vocals with hip-hop beats that became a dominant sound well into the '90s.
So why the long wait in a business where it's best to follow up while your reputation's still warm? The bio accompanying "Guy III" (MCA) blames acrimonious contractual battles with former manager Gene Griffin that led to the group's breakup in 1990. And it's not as if Riley went into hibernation: In 1994, he formed another successful group, Blackstreet, and wrote for and produced such acts as Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, SWV, Whitney Houston and the Rolling Stones. Singers Aaron and Damion Hall also released solo albums.
But there is apparently some unfinished business at the root of "Guy III," something as simple as demanding respect. On the opening track, "We're Comin' ," Riley takes the lead, singing, "We're back on top/ Better run for cover/ 'Cause we can't be stopped." As comeback anthems go, it's pretty generic, and that's the problem with "Guy III" as a whole. Though production credits are spread among 15 people, the album sounds uniformly good. But it also sounds dated, particularly after a half-decade of Blackstreet, R. Kelly and K-Ci & Jo-Jo. Except for one new song that interpolates Internet imagery, the material shows no particular advance over its predecessors.
"Teddy's Jam III" pays homage to Zapp's fuzzy funk and the memory of Roger and Larry Troutman, the group's founders who died last year in a tragic murder-suicide. The track incorporates Zapp's early '80s hits, "Dance Floor" and "I Can Make You Dance," and its rippling disco funk groove is as liberating now as it was then, as is the Princelike future funk of "2004." There are a couple of rap-centered tracks, the best being "Do It," which has faint echoes of A Tribe Called Quest and Digital Underground.
But most of "Guy III" consists of sensual slow jams sung by the Hall brothers. Among the better ones: the sweet come-on of "Dancin'," the fervent "Rescue Me," romantically obsessive "Not a Day" and "Don't U Miss Me," built on Richard Williams's acoustic guitar flourishes.
The most impassioned song on the album, however, is "Why You Wanna Keep Me From My Baby." Written by Riley and Tony Rich, it's performed by Aaron Hall, who's been going through a public custody battle over his son, Aaron IV. "I did my half on my child/ Why do this to me?/ What did I ever do to you," he wails at the mother, before directing a message to his son: "I don't care what's going on in your mother's personal life/ All I care about is you and I love you. . . . Remember one thing--I'm your father!" It's real-life drama, but it feels awkward, as if we're overhearing a family court case.
Elsewhere, the spiritually charged "Someday" incorporates Donny Hathaway's inspirational "Someday We'll All Be Free" in a surprisingly obvious way, while "Love Online" lamely appropriates computer terminology to suggest salacious Internet romance (R. Kelly did it first and better). The song does suggest a future conundrum: "Guy III" is released on MCA, a label owned by Universal Music; "Love Online" gives "courtesy" recognition to America Online for using the trademarked terms "Welcome," "You've Got Mail" and "Goodbye." America Online recently partnered with MCA rival Time Warner Music. Would such permission be granted in a new competitive atmosphere? Now, that's a court battle we might enjoy.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
CAPTION: Guy (from left, Damion Hall, Teddy Riley and Aaron Hall) sounds a bit dated the third time around.