Woman to Woman (to be released November 19, 2012)
Female R&B singers sure are grouchy.
You'd think Keyshia Cole's fifth album, coming off the heels of her marriage, would be sweet and lovey-dovey. Nope, she's as pissed as ever at the men who did her wrong. And anger is always great inspiration.
Keyshia's been in a creative slump for quite awhile. After two phenomenally strong albums, 2008's A Different Me floundered. Not surprisingly, that's also around the time she became a reality TV star - if you equate stardom with getting upstaged by your family. 2010's Calling All Hearts was an improvement, but still lagged behind her earlier work. Finally, on Woman to Woman, Keyshia starts to regain her momentum.
And how does she do that?
A) Take your face off and reveal a scarier face on your album cover
B) Get really pissed off
The grammar-mangling first single "Enough of No Love" is the kind of song Keyshia can hang her hat on - a mid-tempo ballad that gives her plenty of room to let loose vocally. And there's plenty more attitude to go around. On "Get It Right," Keyshia blames her man's lame sex on his unfaithful heart, she laughs at her ex for losing a good thing on "Missing Me" and then dismisses her replacement on "Trust and Believe." Usually all that boyfriend-bashing sassiness would be a turnoff but the outstanding production is the key to success here. "Trust and Believe," for instance, triumphs with sparse instrumentals backed by a wailing electric guitar that would make The Isley clan proud.
Most of the album remains midtempo, but "Hey Sexy" livens things up nicely. It has the feel of a mid-90s R&B track, which, as most of you know, I'm a complete sucker for. Speaking of the '90s, Keyshia tries to rejuvenate the lost art of the duet on the title track - with Ashanti of all people. "Woman to Woman" isn't a remake of the old Shirley Brown track, but the spirit is there. Ashanti can't hang with Keyshia vocally and doesn't try, which is a good thing, but both play their roles perfectly.
Speaking of duets, I thought "Next Move" would feature Keyshia going back and forth with guest Robin Thicke, but he just hangs around in the background mimicking her vocals. The song could have used more love from Thicke.
Keyshia's detractors have pointed to the same criticisms over the years and I doubt this album will change their minds. Yes, Keyshia's vocals still leap from "soaring" to "SHOUTING" from time to time, especially on "I Choose You." Thankfully, nothing is as ear-shattering as her old track "Love." And don't forget Keyshia's tendency to rely on, ahem, strongly urban (i.e., ghetto) lyrics. Woman to Woman overall doesn't sound as juvenile as some of Keyshia's other offerings but occasionally tracks like "Wonderland" will make you roll your eyes - especially Elijah Blake's verse. Also, there's an odd lack of ballads, besides the somewhat sappy "Signature."
Guys might think this album is 50 minutes of catty complaining but that's a bit unfair. In fact, one of the best moments is "Zero," when guest Meek Mill offers a guy's perspective when Keyshia kicks him out: "You gonna think about me every time you see my son/and imma think about you every time I see the sun/in the morning." See, Keyshia, we're not all bad.
Keyshia fans and bitter single women rejoice: Woman to Woman is easily Keyshia's best album since the Bush administration. If anger produces quality like this, I suggest Keyshia remove her happy face and show her scary face more often.
Best tracks: "Enough of No Love," "Trust and Believe," "Hey Sexy"
4 stars out of 5