Remember back in 1985 when Coca-Cola modified the recipe of its namesake carbonated beverage and unleashed the ill-fated New Coke? (A huge public outcry ensued, and after just three months the beloved predecessor returned to the shelves as Coke Classic.) If only someone had reminded Missy Elliott of that marketing disaster, perhaps she would’ve reconsidered tampering with her proven chart-topping formula on her sixth album, The Cookbook.
Until now, Elliott’s exquisitely queer style of rapping and singing has been complemented by the beat-making savvy of her chief collaborator, Timbaland, who has produced the lion’s share of her discography. Here, his involvement is curiously limited to ”Joy,” an unremarkable duet with the annoyingly self-referential Mike Jones, and the pedestrian ”Partytime.” Lackluster contributions from the Neptunes, Scott Storch, and Rich Harrison fail to compensate for his absence, and Elliott’s efforts to showcase obscure new producers are uneven at best.
Even when sampling early hip-hop classics (a signature gimmick), she’s clearly lost without Timbaland. Unlike Under Construction‘s skilled reworkings of U.T.F.O.’s ”Roxanne Roxanne” and Frankie Smith’s ”Double Dutch Bus,” The Cookbook‘s updates do not enhance the value of their prototypes. Culminating in a trendy marching-band solo, ”We Run This” is buttressed by the animated percussion of the Sugarhill Gang’s rendition of ”Apache.” Mary J. Blige and Grand Puba help Elliott repackage their 1992 favorite ”What’s the 411?” as ”My Struggles,” a dark, navel-gazing elegy (”Y’all don’t really know my struggles and how much liquor I guzzle”). Similarly, ”Irresistible Delicious” contains a snippet of Slick Rick’s ”Lick the Balls,” and finds her trading sexed-up verses with the eye-patched rogue. But while Elliott’s lyrics have always been racy (think ”Get Ur Freak On”), this disc’s uninspired musical foundation makes repellent lines such as ”He wants to take me to a motel/See if it’s good enough to smell” (”Can’t Stop”) vulgar rather than playfully profane.
With the exception of a misguided duet with Fantasia (”4 My Man”), The Cookbook‘s strongest moments are the R&B slow jams — chiefly ”Remember When” and ”Time and Time Again” — which often recall Tweet’s finest material. Their warm sensuality and by-the-numbers cohesion offer relief from the bipolar high-energy tunes (”Mommy,” ”Irresistible Delicious”) that sometimes sound like two mismatched songs crammed into one chaotic track. (Likewise, ”Lose Control,” the revved-up lead single, and ”Can’t Stop” sound tailor-made for a competitive cheerleading battle rather than the dance floor.)
As the album draws to a close, you’ll be too worn out to appreciate M.I.A.’s unexpected appearance on the dancehall-tinged ”Bad Man,” also featuring Jamaican rude boy Vybz Kartel. Still, you’ll be thankful that this sloppy 16-song affair is finally over. Indeed, The Cookbook is Elliott’s New Coke and it’s sorely missing Timbaland, the main ingredient of her original flavor.