Nearly a quarter century after R&B singer-songwriter Karyn White broke onto the music scene with her self-titled debut album in 1988, and 17 years after her most recent album, Make Him Do Right, hit store shelves in 1994, the singer best known for her hit song "Superwoman" has returned with a new album. And the album Carpe Diem (it's Latin for 'seize the day') happened to be released on Oct. 22, 2012, the same day that her new 30-minute documentary special, "Life After," premieres on the TV One cable network. At 47 years of age, Karyn may have passed her prime as a commercially viable R&B singer well over a decade ago, but that doesn't stop her from 'seizing the day' and launching her bid to regain relevancy and respect as an artist. The results are mixed, but the album has a friendly, positive vibe that should appeal to most people who were fans of Karyn during her peak period of late '80s/early '90s.
Anyone who takes a long period of time off from their occupation, singing included, is bound to need some time before they get back into a groove. And it seems that on this album, Karyn is almost, but not quite back to her old self. Although she was never known as one of the premier R&B-pop vocalists of the '80s (a la Whitney Houston and Sade Adu), she proved on "Superwoman" and other songs that she can strength and passion. But unfortunately, some of that passion is missing here. Despite the urgent title, there's no real urgency or sense of immediacy on Carpe Diem. But that's actually both a good and bad thing. It's bad because there's no sense of immediacy, for the most part. But it's also good, because it would be embarrassing for her to try remaking herself as an artist by employing hot young hip-hop producers and recording music that's completely inappropriate for her age group. For the most part, the album is what you would expect from a 47-year-old R&B artist: it's a collection of mature, mid-tempo reflections on life and relationships by a suburban mom and businesswoman. The closest the album comes to getting a party started is on the second and third songs, "Dance Floor," which sounds like a '90s leftover; and "This Hot," an uptempo track featuring Sacramento, California-based rapper J Ali.
Of the 11 songs here, absolutely zero new ground is covered topic-wise. You've got your standard female empowerment anthems ("Sista Sista"), seductive bedroom jams ("Sooo Weak") cheating man ballads ("Unbreakable"), divorce/break-up songs ("My Heart Cries") and combinations thereof. Although Karyn deserves props for exploring real issues instead of just singing happy, empty nonsense, the lack of creativity in the songwriting is somewhat disappointing. One of the things that older artists in most music genres have over younger ones is stronger, more intelligent storytelling in their lyrics, but on Carpe Diem, too many times the lyrics just skim the surface without adding a new twist or fresh perspective to the topic at hand. Even more troubling is the lack of passion in her voice; it's almost like this project was a side gig or hobby, something for her to kill time with when not busy with her other career, running her own interior design and real estate business in Northern California. Hopefully, if she decides to record another album sometime in the future, she'll pour her heart and soul into each note instead of treating the creative process like a second job.