Hippo Manchester
October 13, 2005


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Herbie Hancock, Possibilities

Warner Music Group, 2005


Rip-off. Bait-and-switch. I want my money back.

Most of this album is nothing like its snappy first cut, John Mayer’s “Stitched Up,” which kind of sounds like a happy Sting with Jack Johnson thrown in. That’s the cut getting radio play.

The rest of the album, the stuff you do not hear on the radio, is a snoozer.

It’s a compilation in which several pop artists cover their own tunes or old standards, with input from 1970s jazz big-name Herbie Hancock. The title, Possibilities, implies a certain degree of innovation, excitement or variety. As does the John Mayer tune. How disappointing, then, to push Play and discover that most of the disc has the tempo of an elephant’s heart.

Don’t fall for the big names: Santana and Angelique Kidjo; Christina Aguilera; Paul Simon; Annie Lennox; Sting; Jonny Lang and Joss Stone; Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan; Raul Midon; Trey Anastasio. Yes, Christina Aguilera has an impressive voice, but does she have to have it for seven unchanging minutes? Annie Lennox’s throaty powerhouse vocals are far better suited to other things than the Paula Cole tune she sings here, with its languid piano. Sting’s “Sister Moon” doesn’t sound much different than it does elsewhere, save a momentarily interesting bass rhythm. In fact “momentarily interesting” is about how I’d describe all these tunes, at best. “Safiatou” is blandly repetitive except for its last 15 seconds, where Santana truly plays the guitar; Kidjo’s vocals are dull and limited throughout. Paul Simon’s “I Do It For Your Love” will absolutely put you to sleep, and somehow it doesn’t seem like that was the intention.

Even though some of the individual songs might be considered technical successes, the compilation doesn’t hang together well. Too many molasses-slow songs in a row, too much sameness, too little to listen for.

Reading the liner notes helps, but not enough. Whatever insight or positive attitude you gain from knowing how Herbie hooked up with Damien Rice and what Annie Lennox is actually singing about is offset by the aural monotony.

Possibilities offers unobjectionable background music. I give it two stars for “Stitched Up,” for Christina Aguilera’s impressive voice, for the scattered moments of piano or guitar interest. Just don’t get your hopes up.

— Lisa Parsons