on 21 November 2009
I think under normal circumstances, I am (or at least I try to be) relatively fair-minded when I give my opinion - something I probably enjoy doing a bit too much - on music. This might be compromised slightly in this review by one fact: I adore Amerie. As much as it is safe to do, I love her. I understand not everyone will feel the same of course; she can draw in listeners with her looks - of course, plenty of modern R&B singers can rely on that - while they'll stay for (or be repelled by) her voice. I'm not going to hold back: Amerie is currently the greatest female vocalist in popular music.
But, to the music. Her fourth album isn't exactly a big step forward - or in any direction - in fact, but happpily it carries on where `Because I Love It' left off. That said, it's arguably her weakest offering to date. Her début `All I Have' ranks as one of the most definitive and influential R&B albums of the century; appropriately enough for Amerie, it's pretty divisive - either you were taken in by its flawlessly crafted appreciation of modern Soul and Hip-Hop music or driven away by the overwhelmingly sweet vocals; so "nice", for some they're unlistenable. The much more accessible `Touch' came armed with more up-beat, marketable, yet predominantly riveting songs led by the glorious `1 Thing'. `Because I Love It' was the surprise of Amerie's career and possibly her magnum opus - she left the seemingly untouchable Rich Harrison behind and delivered an album that combined the passion and beauty of `All I Have' with the sporadically riotous funkiness of `Touch'.
Supposedly "R&B" singers in recent times have strayed towards electro-pop even when it's not perhaps particularly suited to them, save, maybe for Ciara, whose voice (or lack of it) is ideal for the more electronic tracks she has always tended towards. I don't think anyone would wish that of Amerie, who looks to a time further in the past with a couple of tracks rooted in classic, 60s/70s rock. These are not the most breathtaking pieces of music, but as you might imagine, Amerie's voice makes the most every possible bit of life in them.
Preceding them is the album's second single, `Heard `Em All' - I don't know where this monstrosity came from, but it has no place on this album. It's so bad, its hook almost reminds me of a Pussycat Dolls song (I don't know or care to remember which). It's harsh to focus on this, though, because the rest of the album is solid, its centrepiece being the wondrous `Why R U' which somehow manages to combine a hefty hip-hop sample with Amerie's sugary vocals in a much more pop-tastic fashion than the songs on `All I Have'. It's catchy, but in a great way. (Even if the vocal break does sound a bit like an MJB imitation). The ballads are listenable, particularly `The Flowers' and `Different People' but they aren't as engaging as any of their counterparts on `All I Have' or `Because I Love It''s gorgeous `Paint Me Over'. Put simply, `In Love & War' is more than an appropriate way of continuing Amerie's excellent run of albums; it maintains her status as the most consistently exhillirating R&B artist of the 21st century.
There seem to be a lot of Divas doing the rounds right
now. Some have certainly been worthy of our attention
and some (no names!) most definately have not.
Amerie (born Amerie Mi Marie Rogers) does more than
enough with her new album (and fourth release)
'In Love and War' to warrant spending an hour or so
in her musical company.
What she lacks in vocal refinement she more than makes
up for in raucous Rabelasian energy. She throws herself
into her performances without fear of where she might land.
As is customary these days there are A LOT of writers and
A LOT of producers involved in the project. This is a
formula which has gone disastrously wrong for some but
Alex Reid's "executive" overview has succeeded in keeping
an iron grip on the proceedings, resulting in a remarkably
coherent and entertaining package.
Many of the elements of the current lexicon of Hip Hop and
R&B are all present and correct and are mostly in fine fettle.
The sound is generally big, ripe and full to bursting.
At their best the results communicate genuine excitement.
Warryn Campbell's 'Higher' is a splendid example.
He takes a fairly simple, hackneyed riff and imbues
it with new life. Amerie picks up the song and kicks
it around for all its worth. There is a spontaneity and
raw edge to her performance which I, somewhat fancifully
perhaps, can imagine having been captured in one take.
'Swag Back' is a big brassy number which still gives
the voice room to move and what a fine voice it is.
From a well-grounded middle register right up to some
rip-roaring and uplifting big top notes it is an
impressively courageous instrument.
'Red Eye', co-written with Bryan-Michael Cox, is one
of the strongest contributions to the collection.
The whiplash big beat, skittering internal rhythms and
pizzicato string synth provide a complex and enthralling
backdrop to Amerie's laid-back and silky vocal delivery.
'Dear John' is another highlight. The voice is pitched
well-forward in the mix; in the spotlight where it belongs.
The remix of 'Heard 'Em All', featuring the estimable
Lil Wayne, is a bundle of good-natured fun and certainly
gives Ms Knowles a run for her money.
Nose to tail listening of the very highest order.