With Destiny's Child besieged by infighting, lawsuits and rumors since the release of the group's 1999 album, a musical soap-opera seemed in store for the follow-up.
But "Survivor," the Houston trio's new album, takes the high road, as Beyonce Knowles and company refuse to directly address the gripes raised by their departed comrades. "I'm not gonna dis you ... 'cause my Mama taught me better than that," the group sings on the title song. Besides, they might have added, it could be bad for business.
Too much is at stake to risk losing any listeners: With the 7 million-selling "The Writing's On the Wall" still in the Top 100 nearly two years after its release, Destiny's Child figured the best way to expand their audience was to emphasize inclusiveness.
Though the group members still clobber any rogue, they also give their self-confident female characters permission to act vulnerable ("Dangerously in Love"), sexy ("Apple Pie A La Mode") and spiritual ("Gospel Medley").
The music wants to be all things to all listeners: a post-Motown pastiche of edgy, skittering beats and layered harmonies, punctuated by a guitar riff from a Stevie Nicks song here and a Bee Gees ballad there. When the girls rush the dance floor, they're state-of-the-art fun. The playful interplay of the three singers' voices on "Sexy Daddy" is the sound of sheer exuberance, and the typewriter beats of "Fancy" and sandpaper syncopations of "Independent Women Part II" are irresistible.
The album stumbles when Destiny's Child allows sanctimony ("Nasty Girl" scolds a trampish peer) and tired diva formulas (the vapid "Brown Eyes") to pollute their frothy concoctions.
Despite these missteps, "Survivor" expands the range of the group's two previous albums, and confirms the emergence of 19-year- old Knowles as pop's most formidable triple-threat prodigy - a singer, songwriter and producer with a hot hand and an attitude to match.
Sun score: ***