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Aaliyah

Aaliyah  Hear it Now

RS: 4of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 4.5of 5 Stars

2001

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Aaliyah is an R&B seductress of the highest order, the undisputed queen of the midtempo come-on. She works her voodoo on a bed of diamond-precision beats and densely sculptured grooves: Starting with her R. Kelly-produced debut album, 1994's Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, and continuing through 1996's One in a Million, which began her fruitful association with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, her impact on contemporary R&B - and therefore pop - has been enormous. Long before Britney scandalized a nation by winking at dirty old men everywhere, the teenage Aaliyah was romantically linked with the much older R. Kelly and singing the erotic, precocious lyrics he'd written for her. One in a Million proved she wasn't a fluke by heightening the contradictions that made her resonate: She was the B-girl with supermodel looks, simultaneously distant and down-to-earth. That blend of the familiar and the exotic was reflected in her singing, which was both aloof and inviting. Her voice - small, often tinny - was rendered supple when couched in Timbaland's barrage of beats and off-kilter studio flourishes. She sang with an authority at odds with the fragility of her instrument.

On Aaliyah, a near-flawless declaration of strength and independence, she ups the ante for herself and her contemporaries - as well as for her musical heroes. Aaliyah is Control, Velvet Rope and Jagged Little Pill all rolled into one. It's the album Janet should have made with All for You, the manifesto that Beyonce thought she was penning with Survivor. Timbaland produced only a handful of the disc's fifteen tracks, but his Afro-sci-fi influence is everywhere: layered and oddly tweaked vocals, beats lovingly laced with techno-electro strokes that threaten to shatter your system, arrangements that harness sonic non sequiturs and give them a cohesion that's breathtaking. Missy Elliott's So Addictive or OutKast's Stankonia are the only recent hip-hop/R&B/pop records as overflowing with ideas and experimentation. An even more fitting comparison, though, would be to Sade's 2000 comeback, Lovers Rock. (Aaliyah has stated in interviews that Sade is her heroine.) Aaliyah has the familiar crisp production and staccato arrangements that we've come to associate with Sade; like Lovers Rock, Aaliyah tilts forward in its sound but also reaches back to old-school soul music to flesh out its slow jams.

The tone is set with the opening track and first single, "We Need a Resolution," which is driven by a stop-and-go drum pattern, hand claps and a male-vs.-female take on the dissolution of a love affair. Aaliyah's voice snakes through the intricately sparse arrangement with cool confidence. That assurance is the foundation for the entire album. "What If" is a Detroit-techno-meets-industrial-rock workout that nods to Trent Reznor (another Aaliyah hero). Where too many R&B artists who decide to rock out affect a laughable rasp (Janet's "Black Cat," En Vogue's "Free Your Mind"), Aaliyah channels rock's aggression and attitude without resorting to caricature. She does the same with "Extra Smooth," which vaults somewhere beyond hip-hop and drum-and-bass, tapping into reserves of funk and playfulness that popular R&B hasn't accessed in ages. And the withering kiss-off tune, "U Got Nerve," is drenched with palpable F-you vibes. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a trio of dazzling ballads, "I Care 4 U," "Never No More" and the piano-driven "I Refuse." All have a deep, bluesy, jazzy undertow that pulls Aaliyah into soulful performances showcasing a bruised knowingness. They're the best she's ever been vocally, reflecting a stronger technique than is found on her previous albums. Another lesson Aaliyah has learned from hanging with Missy and Timbaland is the importance of humor, which permeates the new disc in ways both sly and subtle. Timbaland playfully dismisses her concerns on the give-and-take of "We Need a Resolution"; on "Read Between the Line," she lets her vocals get stretched in a jokey, elastic way. The wit in the production and dollops of lightheartedness balance the eroticism, outrage and heartbreak in the lyrics.

The album's highlight, though, is "Rock Da Boat," a masterpiece of unbridled salaciousness. Aaliyah breathlessly purrs sexual commands ("Change positions," "Work the middle," "Stroke it for me . . .") over an airy groove whose instrumentation swells against and then falls away from her voice. The hypnotic rhythm churns with erotic heat; beats both soft and hard tumble gently over one another as synth effects flutter and swoop. This track is sex, pure and simple.

The irony is that at the start of her career, the unapologetic, blunt sexuality in her music marked Aaliyah as R. Kelly's studio creation, a contrived plaything. "Rock Da Boat," unblushing in its frankness, shows that she has come into her own as a woman. She's at the wheel, steering her sexuality and using it to explore her own fantasies and strengths. And the joy you hear in her voice, in the grooves, is rooted in independence. R&B's reigning ice princess is starting to thaw.

ERNEST HARDY
(RS 874 - August 2, 2001)



(Posted: Jul 9, 2001)

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Review 1 of 2

charliemapleton writes:

5of 5 Stars

At the height of her career,Aaliyah Dana Haughton became a powerful anti-diva:always keeping a strict,lusty attitude and even in more demand of her success.Nonetheless,she still managed her sincerity and velvety,harmonic voice.The format is well layed out on what unfortunately would become her last album(due to a tragic plane crash on August 11,2001),firmly called "Aaliyah".It was an enchanting,energenic piece that displayed her fantastic vocal talents and creative endeavors(with support and inspiration from VA's lab wizards Timbaland and Missy).The sonic soul of "We Need A Resolution" is a relationship therapy guide perfect for quarreling couples.Backed by echoing vocals and Timbo's choo choo train-like beats,it basically informs you that love,trust,and honor is what really counts."Loose Rap" is a witty,808-tapping number where the L-I-Y-A-H is being pestered by a would-be mack.The swaying,harmonic bridge traces back to evolving 90's r&b,making the song solid."Rock The Boat" is organic and flourescent:Keyboards,bongos,and unexpectedly luscious lyrics that give you a mind twist."I Care 4 U" is an unlimited conversation where Miss Haughton promises to arrive at her mate's aid and convinence It is also said it's about then-boyfriend,hip hop mogul Dame Dash."It's Whatever" is a friendly,delightful bit whre Aaliyah reflects on a past relationship.It gives a candid,all in all positive outlook on the chemistry between girl/boy,boy/girl-whatever you prefer.The sands of the hourglass may have passed since her death,but her spirit is still immortal like a mirage that stands still in the Sahara.

Sep 30, 2006 11:55:39

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Review 2 of 2

RicanGLV14 writes:

3of 5 Stars

There's a similarity between Aaliyah and Cassie, even though Cassie came to a later generation. Both of their vocals are very simple and both of them have addictive hits. WE NEED A RESOLUTION is truly the stand out on the album, carried up with other hits in the making. But what's the real stand out on the album is the hit you'll be hearing for the remainder of the album, WE NEED A RESOLUTION.

Sep 12, 2006 14:52:31

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