Perhaps because they spend so much time on the show trying to impress judges, singers from American Idol often overdo things. So the songs on 19-year-old Jordin Sparks' second album, Battlefield (* * * out of four), lean toward hyperbole: Love is a battlefield, a boyfriend dancing with another girl necessitates an S.O.S. signal, a date who's late requires a 911 call.
With the thumping rhythms and massive, swooping melodies of Sparks' cleverly clubby R&B/pop, it may seem musical subtlety is lacking. But even though the backing vocals on her T-Pain collaboration are Auto-Tuned beyond the point of humanity, most songs bear up well, from Battlefield and its march-step groove to Let It Rain with its faux pipe organ.
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Battlefield suggests Sparks, who won Idol's sixth season, could follow the successful pattern of first-season winner Kelly Clarkson, just with an R&B bent and fewer obvious issues with men. The album's final four songs indicate she's developing as a songwriter as well. The last two in particular —Faith and The Cure— offer a cool-down period after all the beat-heavy grooves. They also sound a little like American Idol coronation songs — just much better. Maybe Idol should consider turning to Sparks for the crowning moment of Season 9. — Brian Mansfield