The obvious mandate with Mario's new CD was to establish the former teen pop star as a mature R&B performer. The emphasis is on moody seduction ballads and lightly tripping uptempo tunes geared to let Mario flash his singing chops. No doubt, he has developed into more assured vocalist. It's immediately evident from the opening title track, a typically tuneful Neptunes production. Mario's tone has gotten richer, and he caresses the words instead of rushing through the syllables in search of satisfaction. He flexes his upper register on "Skippin'," and he even turns back the clock by expressively refreshing Keith Sweat's nugget "Right and Wrong Way." Judging from the producers, you'd think all modern R&B artists have the same Rolodex: Stargate, the Neptunes, Mr. Collipark, and Timbaland all show up for the umpteenth time this year. Even Akon contributes with "Do Right," which shows that beneath the thuggish lasciviousness, he's a sentimentalist at heart. It's easy to be cynical about these kinds of projects that seem designed by a multi-platinum committee instead of one brilliant vision (think R. Kelly, D'Angelo). But the disc does cohere and convinces you that as an adult loverman supreme, Mario may indeed have staying power. [Ken Capobianco]
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