Wayne Wonder

Atlantic/VP Records

Wayne Wonder is a ladies' man who's down with the thugs, equally at home crooning solo love songs over dancehall beats or lacing rude-boy anthems with buttery choruses. His panty-wetting tenor is never nasal and is refreshingly free of the breaks and yelps that other heartthrobs use as shorthand for tenderness. And while Wonder's straightforward delivery lacks the ache and lilt of more dynamic singers who stick to reggae's roots tradition, it compensates by the trendy company it keeps: digital beats, infectious melodies, and the occasional heavyweight deejay to bring the street cred.

Wonder's most conspicuous album in over a decade in the game, the Atlantic Records-supported No Holding Back promises and delivers a steamy fashion show. After charging onto the runway with last year's rightful smash, "No Letting Go," over the wicked, clappy Diwali riddim (shared by Sean Paul's "Get Busy"), the disc has nary a misstep, if few truly inspired moments. Standouts "Bounce Along" and "Glad You Came My Way" profess passion over smart, clackity syncopation and serpentine synth melodies. These midtempo cuts stake out a middle ground between the charging ragga of tracks like "Crazy Feeling," featuring Elephant Man, and a bevy of slower bedroom rockers. Of the latter, the summery gem "Slowly but Surely" on the roots-meets-ray guns Silk riddim, and "Just Another Day," on which Wonder's mournful lyrics complement a stately hip-hop beat, sound catchy yet honest. In contrast it's a wonder how Wonder can keep a straight face calling his (Italian?) baby "my sweet tenderoni" throughout the peppy, prefab "Nobody but Me."

Certainly world-class producers Tony Kelly, Lenky Marsden, and Don Bennett lay down a foundation of innovative, polished grooves here. This album has more hooks than a bra shop, and Sanchez's light, confident touch pops them wide open. And yet ultimately, with its major-label sheen and superficial ardor, No Holding Back sounds slightly more like money than love -- as if, a few years from now, it will be just another fabulous memory.

 
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