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DJBooth Album Review
After Amerie’s last album Because I Love It was largely overshadowed by label and marketing politics, the dark-haired siren is now signed to Def Jam and ready to pick up where she left off with the release of her fourth studio album In Love & War, a widely searching work whose production Amerie was intimately involved in. In other words, out of all her albums, this one should come closest to manifesting who she is as a person and an artist, which is ironic because Love & War feels like it’s holding back. Even after all this time, I’m not sure if we really know who Amerie really is, and if she ever decides to truly show us, R&B will have no choice but to recognize the strength of her work.
As evidenced by nearly every major hit she’s ever had, Amerie’s at her best when she goes big. Now not every song has to include a full swing band like 1 Thing, but they do have to be up-tempo enough to take advantage of her natural energy. It’s no surprise then that she opens the album with the huge Tell Me You Love Me, a cut that relies on a blazing horn section, jumping percussion and heavily stylized vocals to create a jam that’s sure to be the new strong-woman anthem. It’s a similar story on the lead single Why R U, except here the live band feel is replaced by DJ scratches and hip-hop samples that burst into a climactic chorus. This is exactly the kind of Amerie track I first fell in love with, and Why R U’s a more than worthy addition to her greatest hits catalog. Not all of Amerie’s more hip-hop infused work on Love & War works so well, I was more than a little disappointed to see Swag Back on the album (I just want to go one day without hearing the word “swag,” just one), and while the Weezy-assisted Heard Em All (Remix) is fun, it feels a little forced, particularly when Amerie adopts a quasi-Jamaican accent. Still, for the first seven songs Love & War doesn’t pull any punches, and when Amerie swings, she connects.
Where Love & War stumbles is when the pace slows, when the energy established by the album’s opening slowly but surely dissipates under the weight of sexy burners and formulaic ballads. The most prominent example of this momentum killing mood has to be Dear John, an unimaginatively themed track so clichéd it even quotes Jerry Maguire (“you had me at hello”). Similarly misguided are the piano-centric cut The Flowers, a track that rises but never really takes off, and Red Eye, Love & War’s hot but not hot enough baby maker. Amerie doesn’t have a powerhouse voice, it’s her delivery and personality that set her apart, and unfortunately the second half of Love & War feels weighed down by tracks that don’t allow here to really express herself. Amerie doesn’t do subtle, and when she does, the results aren’t nearly as interesting.
Now that doesn’t mean Amerie can’t do more traditional R&B. In fact, Love & War has a couple great tracks that find a perfect mid-tempo balance: the engrossing Trey Songz duet Pretty Brown Eyes and the Fabolous-assisted More Than Love (featuring a great fake fight between Loso and Amerie). But what both these tracks have in common are that they don’t attempt to restrain Amerie, letting her show the full range of her expressive abilities. If Amerie ever just completely throws caution to the wind and embraces her wilder side I feel like she’s got a classic album in her, but In Love & War is not that album. What can I say? I love Amerie’s voice, and style and…personality.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 11/3/09
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