After their debut single, “No, No, No (Part II),” became a smash hit in ’97, Texas natives Destiny’s Child were a one-hit wonder in waiting. The group’s first album failed to produce any more hits despite high-profile cameos by Jermaine Dupri and Master P. And their corny ads for sensitive-scalp hair relaxer only intensified their potential as future joke fodder. Many people would have bet against Destiny’s Child’s ever having another hit or making a great album. But with the release of the group’s sophomore effort, “The Writing’s on the Wall” (Sony), these naysayers would be broke.
Not only does it contain the hilarious “Bills, Bills, Bills,” which just went Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts, but the album is also one of the most entertaining and cohesive of the year. Sexy, sassy, Southern and smart, “The Writing’s on the Wall” races open with “So Good,” a lyrical indictment of all those who doubted the group: “Wasn’t it you that said/ that I wouldn’t do too good/ and never make it out the hood/ I want you to know that I’m doing so good.” Lead singer Beyonce Knowles sings this and several other songs at a thrilling daredevil speed that is a gloved fit for the album’s many up-tempo Southern-bounce grooves.
Thematically, the album is so engaging because the individual songs affect a wide array of perspectives, some of which are realistically contradictory and even hypocritical. Though the young women scoff at men who cheat (“Hey Ladies”), pester them (“Bugaboo”) and can’t help with the expenses (“Bills, Bills, Bills”), they also lavishly indulge in transgressions of their own. “Temptation” finds Knowles at a club about to write a guy’s phone number on the palm of her hand when she thinks: “Oops, I forgot/ I got a man.” Similarly, “If You Leave” is a tender ode to infidelity on which Knowles croons, “If you leave her/ I’ll leave him.” And in the throbbing “Confessing,” written and produced by Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, Knowles comes clean with her boyfriend about cheating on him.
These songs provide a twist to the hip-hop/R&B gender battles in which all men are philandering “scrubs” and all women are gold-digging “pigeons.” “The Writing’s on the Wall” deals less with polarizing labels than with desire, temptation and circumstance. So, while Destiny’s Child may have had a smash hit with “No, No, No,” with “The Writing’s on the Wall” it gets a refreshingly complex point of view.