The MF Life (released March 20, 2012)
Just a few years ago, I was extremely excited about the young career of Melanie Fiona. Not only was she following in the footsteps of fellow Canadian bombshells Tamia and Deborah Cox (two of my all-time favorites) her single, “It Kills Me” was burning up the airwaves. But sadly, her debut, The Bridge, just didn’t do it for me.
Three years later, Birmingham radio is STILL playing “It Kills Me” regularly, so clearly Fiona made an impact. With traditional R&B in a coma, there’s no better time for Fiona to make her mark. Consider Fiona’s sophomore set, The MF Life, her redemption song.
A very, very angry redemption song.
The MF Life is nearly an hour-long breakup letter to a no-good ex. Perpetually grouchy R&B siren Jazmine Sullivan would be so proud. But we all know heartbreak lays the foundation for great songs.
Lead single “4 a.m.” is the typical story of a neglect but Fiona is through playing the victim. Fierce vocals fuel her rage. The beat’s initial serenity escalates into pulse-racing drum patterns, adding more layers to the tension. It’s one of the finest tracks I’ve heard all year.
Fiona’s pain is our pleasure on “I Been That Girl,” with a sparse beat and breathy lyrics that will remind you of a throwback Aaliyah track, and the soaring vocals of “Wrong Side of a Love Song.” Fiona’s voice is powerful yet never spirals out of control.
“This Time” and “Running” both are gems on their own but are blessed with lyrical boost from J. Cole and Nas, respectively. Cole confesses that “it’s deep/When the girl of his dreams is the same one to wake him up” while Nas dreams finding “that ‘Color Purple’ love, running and waving” on his quest for the perfect wife.
Fiona’s hot streak begins to cool during the second half of the album. “Watch Me Work” is catchy but nowhere near as memorable as earlier tracks. “Can’t Say That I Love You” boasts yet another strong vocal performance, but the lyrics – ugh. It sounds like one of those eye-rollingly sappy American Idol songs. Oh, and speaking of sappy, “L.O.V.E.” is sickeningly sweeter that Cookie Monster’s Kool-Aid. As usual, the vocals are superb, especially from guest star John Legend, but the lyrics are straight out of an After School Special.
Thankfully, the album ends on a surprisingly good note. The closer, “6 a.m.,” is a clever remix of both Fiona’s “4 a.m.” and “5 O’Clock,” the latest single from hip hop Transformer T-Pain. The pair mesh pretty well despite one of the voices sounding like a lawn mower.
This time around, Fiona has the substance to back up her amazing voice. The MF Life is the album I hoped Fiona’s debut would be. It’s sweet redemption for a very deserving vocalist.
Best tracks: “4 a.m.,” “This Time,” “Running”
4 stars out of 5