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The Independent Culture

702: 702 (Motown)

Somewhere there must be a factory that manufactures black female vocal groups according to precise specifications. The lyrics of these groups seem to be transcribed from the Jerry Springer Show, and usually concern dumping your no-good man. The singing consists almost entirely of elaborate warm-up exercises. And the group members spend more time writing pages of acknowledgements in their CD booklets than they do writing songs. The music behind their warbling, however, can be startling.

One such group is Destiny's Child - and if you get confused, just remember that there are four of them and they're from Texas. Destiny's Child bring attitude and urgency to their songs, but most of the plaudits for the album should go to a roster of producers who have also been behind hits by TLC (She'kspere), Brandy & Monica (Rodney Jerkins) and almost everyone else (Missy Elliott and Timbaland). Instead of sticking to traditional, steady, swing rhythms, the producers spatter the record with fibrillating, stop-start beats. And instead of a pale wash of backing tracks, there are sharp dabs of colour: a thump of timpani, a pluck of strings, a prickly acoustic guitar loop, a chord progression that owes more to European classical music than American R'n'B. The stately harpsichord on the group's current hit, "Bills, Bills, Bills", is just one example of the album's experimental spirit.

702 are comparable, but their material is fluffier, with a whiff of schmaltzy Eighties pop. Also, there are only three women in the group and they're from Las Vegas (area code: 702). But if you look at the credits for "Where My Girls At" and "Gotta Leave", you'll notice that Missy Elliott was at the controls. If there is a girl-group factory somewhere, Elliott must have shares.