WHEN/WHERE Lucy Pearl, at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Monday (May 29). $17.50. 870-8000 Rating: NNNNN
Supergroups never work. The idea of a bunch of multimillionaire pop stars getting together "just for the music" doesn't pan out the way you hope it will. Lucy Pearl is no exception.
In the great tradition of supergroups, Lucy Pearl came together on the fly. Barely a year passed between the time A Tribe Called Quest DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Tony Toni Toné guitarist/singer Raphael Saadiq and En Vogue's Dawn Robinson hooked up and the release of their debut album.
That the threesome would coalesce under one name is no surprise -- Muhammad, Saadiq and Robinson all worked together in various configurations before. But why would they work with other people at all, since their past groups all broke up with varying degrees of acrimony?
"When someone quits a job or gets fired from working at McDonald's," begins Robinson, munching on a giant fruit plate during a recent promo trip, "no one ever asks why they're going to get another job.
"This is just a job like any other. En Vogue was very successful, and yes, we made money, but things change. If you hated your job, you'd leave, too."
Screams sacrificed "Each one of us could easily have gone and done a solo record and sold millions," Muhammad continues. "That will probably happen down the line, but right now it's about collaborating and working with each other."
"We've already had the screams and adoration," Saadiq adds. "It's more than that now. I've already been the shit. I was the shit when I was singing in church, and when 10,000 people were screaming my name in a stadium. I want something else now."
Even with their combined firepower, Lucy Pearl almost didn't come together, thanks to an overzealous manager looking for a big payday.
"Ali and Raphael had been talking about the group for a while, but couldn't get me on the phone," Robinson groans. "My manager wouldn't put the calls through."
"It was weird," Saadiq laughs. "I called up, and the woman said, 'No, Dawn's not going to want to do this,' without even asking her. 'Thanks a lot for the gesture, Raphael, but right now Dawn's not interested in doing anything like that. But what about this other girl I represent?' I just hung up."
"Then I fired her," Robinson snorts.
Talent wasted Maybe that initial fumble would have been for the best. For all the talent involved, Lucy Pearl sounds disturbingly ordinary. Rarely does the group's self-titled debut break beyond the bland, radio-friendly R&B mould, something that each of the three managed to do, at least occasionally, in their previous bands.
The intelligent bump of A Tribe Called Quest and the elegance of Tony Toni Toné's House Of Music album is nowhere to be found.
It's only inside the rarefied atmosphere of R&B celebrity that someone wearing a chunk of ice worth more than the average SUV would write a song like Remember The Time, with its unintentionally hilarious chorus, "When we didn't have a dime/Those were the best times."
"We never really had a formula with Lucy Pearl other than making something that people would like," Robinson gamely admits. "We don't need to be changing the game up entirely. Don't forget, we've all been very successful in the past, so we know what sells and what doesn't."
"We want the masses to like what we do," Muhammad declares. "They're the ones who pay the bills. Making something intentionally hard or challenging doesn't do anyone any favours. There's nothing wrong with saying that."