Friday, February 15, 2013

Plagues Of Generic R&B/Hip-Hop Continue With A Different Me By Keyshia Cole.

The Good: Moments of voice/production
The Bad: Pretense, Overproduced, Lyrically vacuous, Repetitive, Generally inane, Reliance on guest performers.
The Basics: Vocally overproduced, intellectually lazy and bland in the produced instrumental accompaniment, Keyshia Cole's A Different Me may easily be passed by.

Sometimes, I find myself in a conundrum because I can recognize raw talent even when it is not used or applied well on a work. Most often in music, this takes the form of artists or performers with a real vocal talent who are not truly using it or are using it poorly. The albums where this happen tend to have overproduced vocals that obscure the full range and natural sound of the singer's voice and/or has the singer singing the most inane lyrics amazing. The last time I encountered such raw talent being presented poorly was on Brandy's album Full Moon (reviewed here!). At least, that was until I raided my brother's stash of c.d.s looking for something to tide me over. In my brother's collection, I found Keyshia Cole and her album A Different Me.

A Different Me represents pretty much all I loathe in contemporary hip-hop. The album is overproduced, it includes a load of self-indulgent references and relies heavily on guest performers whose appearances are carefully-calculated business choices that are designed to guarantee the album has a ridiculous number of sales from fans of the other artists. As well, there is a bland and inane sense of sexuality on the album that is not at all romantic or sexy, making the assertion in the opening and closing tracks that this is the "sexy side" of Keyshia Cole seem even more ridiculous. As well, this album is terribly unoriginal - it sounds like a second-rate version of The Heat by Toni Braxton (reviewed here!). So, despite the fact that Keyshia Cole might have some vocal talent and some of the songs on A Different Me actually have a very dancable quality to them, it became very easy to recommend listeners avoid this c.d.

With only thirteen songs (plus two additional tracks where Cole introduces the album and thanks people for actually listening to the album) with a running time of 53:42, A Different Me is a remarkably droll album that is very much the vision of Keyshia Cole. While she only wrote a single song ("Brand New") on her own, she co-wrote twelve of the other tracks. Only "Make Me Over" and "This Is Us" are complete covers. While Cole does not play any instruments on the album, she is credited as one of the album's co-producers, so it is hard to argue that she did not end up with the album she thought she was making.

And that album is arguably one of the most generic hip-hop albums I have ever heard. Indeed, after eight listens to the entire album, there was not a single distinct single. None of these songs stand out as original either in their sound, vocals or lyrics. Instead, they are background music and not even interesting background music. Whatever single Cole used to sell this album, I'm not even inspired to look it up because it didn't stand out on this album. Instead, this album takes the listener from one overproduced track to another with little sense of originality between the songs and even less impetus for listeners to keep listening. There's no hook.

Instead, the sound of this album is monotonously produced keyboards, synths, drum machines and generic horn sounds (on "Make Me Over"). The thing is, when there aren't actual musicians playing, this is exactly what one gets. There are a few tracks that have a string section to offer a slower, supposedly more romantic mood, tempo but even they do not carry a memorable tune or melody. Instead, songs like "Please Don't Stop" dominate A Different Me with their pounding bass, generic drum machine sound and overbearing backing vocals. The songs have monotonous and repetitive refrains as well - "Please Don't Stop" is repeated over three dozen times on the four minute song. The keyboards are particularly obvious and generic for "You Complete Me."

The generic keyboards and overbearing backing vocals obscure whatever natural voice Cole might have to try to dazzle the listener with. Her vocals are completely mechanized for the opening to "Erotic" and the rest of the song is so overproduced that if her voice were actually on the original track it is not evident now (it actually sounds more like Michael Jackson than Keyshia Cole for most of it!). Only on "You Complete Me" can Cole's actual voice be heard without modifications and she does seem to have a wonderful soprano voice with a bit of range to it.

Sadly, that is the exception to the rule and even when she is not competing with her backing vocals, the songs are in no way worth hearing. Cole continues to perpetuate the idea that women can solve all of a man's problems by simply loving them better. Songs like "Trust" read as uncomfortably desperate (especially to anyone whose had a good psychotherapist) and one wants to shake her each time she sings "I know you've seen a lot of things in your life / Got you feeling like this can't be right / But I won't hurt you I'm down for you baby / (I know you've seen a lot of things) I know you've seen a lot of things in your life / Got you feeling like this can't be right / But I wont hurt you I'm down for you baby" ("Trust").

In addition to having inane rhymes, Keyshia Cole tries to sell herself as part of a long tradition of musical greats by referencing them or working with them on this album. Her sappy "Playa Cards Right" references people like Luther Vandross and uses clips from 2Pac in order to remind listeners of fallen rappers or R&B artists and the song comes across as utterly self-serving when it is not being ineffectually emotive. As well, on songs like "Beautiful Music," Cole utilizes lines like "No one else can do what you can do / No one else can fill the void you fill only you (baby yea yea) / And I seem to not have control / And I don't think I want to / Baby she don't have to know / What we been up to / And he don't have what we been up to / Beautiful music / Let's make beautiful music" which are horrible rhymes and unoriginal sentiments. This level of self-serving lack of originality is only capped by the ridiculous opening and closing to the album. This album is supposed to be the "Sexy side of" Keyshia Cole ("A Different Me Intro") but outside moaning "Oh-Oh, Yeah-yeah" (which is more desperate sounding and sounds like a pretty generic porn soundtrack) there is nothing even remotely sultry on the album.

The "Outro" to A Different Me is the height of ridiculous, as Cole calls out to listeners for a response to the album. She thanks listeners for buying the album and then asks for reactions from the left and from the right and I can't resist asking Cole, "Do you actually hear people who shout out in response to this question in your mind? Do you realize this is not a live album and if people did truly enjoy themselves, you're not going to hear them from the right side because they're not in the room with you?!"

As it stands, this album is not worth anyone's time or attention. Whatever talent Keyshia Cole has, it is not evident on A Different Me. I've no idea what the best song is (there is no hook and nothing memorable here!), but the low point is certainly "A Different Me Outro."

For other hip-hop or rap artists, please check out my reviews of:
Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet
Pink - Can't Take Me Home


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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