AALIYAH: AALIYAH (2001)
1) We Need A Resolution; 2) Loose Rap; 3) Rock The Boat; 4) More Than A Woman; 5) Never No More; 6) I Care 4 U; 7) Extra Smooth; 8) Read Between The Lines; 9) U Got Nerve; 10) I Refuse; 11) It's Whatever; 12) I Can Be; 13) Those Were The Days; 14) What If.
Five years in the waiting and the final result just goes to show that in a genre like R'n'B, waiting isn't gonna do you much good. Maybe One In A Million showed some flashes of a new type of sound, but this third and, alas, last effort doesn't. It doesn't even show a lot of "maturation" — how, in fact, can one ever become more "mature" if all the artistry is placed into other people's hands? She just looks older on the album cover, that's all.
Maybe we needed more Missy Elliott/Timbaland cooperation on the record. It is their stuff, after all, that made One In A Million ultimately stand above competition, and it's no surprise that their only joint product on Aaliyah is easily its best track, and, in fact, easily the best thing Aaliyah was ever given in her life. She must have known that, and her vocal delivery on 'I Care 4 U' literally makes my hair stand on end. It's got a smokey, sultry, dimmed-lights Seventies retro sheen to it, something in the Isaac Hayes ballpark, and although the lyrics, basically just about wanting to comfort someone who's just been dumped by his lover, are trite, the sheer effect of them is anything but. It's the best mainstream R'n'B ballad of the decade I've known so far.
As for the more lightweight material, some of these dance numbers are cute enough to merit a smile, but the groove isn't really all that tight or trance-like to justify the repetitiveness: 'Rock The Boat', after a short while, begins to look like an audio sex manual ('stroke it for me, stroke it for me, change position, change position'), and 'More Than A Woman', after showing initial promise with its odd Eastern rhythm, doesn't show anything else (not to mention that its title inavoidably brings on comparisons with the far superior, although, of course, entirely different, Bee Gees song). The best of these 'bouncy' numbers is arguably 'Extra Smooth', with its weird 'descending' loop that hearkens back to the days of disco and, from there, even music-hall.
I don't really know, though, why one should bother describing these songs. I don't get the feeling they meant a lot to Aaliyah or even those who saddled her with them. It's pretty obvious that she really only felt at home with the ballads: 'I Care 4 U' is the top number, for sure, but 'Never No More' and 'I Refuse', although far less memorable, at least give me a bit of ground to empathize with the singer. Nothing else does: she just doesn't connect. The album closer, 'What If', is a weird mess of electronic bleeps and hard riffs, maybe the "heaviest" number in her catalog, but the vocals could as well have been synthesized. Maybe they were, who knows.
There is a minor critical tendency to describe Aaliyah as a masterpiece, most likely influenced by her tragic death within a few months of its release. But, like I said, I see no progress, in fact, quite the contrary, I again see a talented girl fall under the supervision of hacks who'd most likely just go on sabotaging her career for the next decade. So both the heart and the brain give this a big fat thumbs down rating, not before Superman comes and rescues 'I Care 4 U', though.