Keyshia Cole - A Different Me

Posted December 14, 2008
Tags: Keyshia Cole,

Keyshia Cole has said her biggest musical influence is Mary J. Blige, and if that’s true...

A Different Me Album Review

Keyshia Cole has said her biggest musical influence is Mary J. Blige, and if that’s true she’s following in her role model’s footsteps precisely. In fact, Cole is next in line to inherit the Queen of R&B crown from Ms. Blige. It’s not Cole’s commercial success that makes her the next Queen (though she’s had plenty), and it’s not her supermodel looks (though she’s certainly beautiful). No, the quality that puts her on top is simple – it’s her soul. Soul can’t be taught, you either have it or you don’t, and Cole has so much soul at times it seems to overwhelm her. Pop music is r&b stripped of the pain, so while her more famous peers like Beyonce and Rihanna are certainly pop royalty, they could never be true Queens of R&B.

Cole’s most powerful asset has always been her ability to make you feel her pain, and that’s why although women may want to be like Beyonce, they feel like they already are Cole. (How could Beyonce possibly understand what life is like for most women?). So it’s perfectly understandable if Cole’s faithful followers feel a little worried about the title of her new album, A Different Me. After all, her last album was titled Just Like You, and the last thing her fans want her to become is a different person. Not to worry. Just like Ms. Mary’s last album, A Different Me shows Cole is now more focused on celebrating her triumph over adversity than reliving her past pain. A Different Me isn’t a perfect album, but Cole isn’t perfect, and that’s what makes her so captivating.

There isn’t a better example of Cole’s newfound emphasis on happiness than You Complete Me, a slowly paced track that takes the heartbreaking formula of her past hits – orchestral string harmonies and softly soaring melodies – and uses it to describe the joy of a beautiful relationship. More importantly, Complete Me shows that Cole’s voice is dynamic enough to soar with heartbreak or love with equal power, a feat very few singers are able to pull off. On the other side is Make Me Over, a track that would seem to confirm the fears of those worried Keyshia’s going to become unrecognizable. Musically Make Me Over is a departure from Cole’s usual r&b template, bringing in some up-tempo production that swings with a big band style while Cole veers dangerously into Christina Aguilera territory, seemingly more interested in hitting every note known to man than making good music. Lyrically Cole spends Make Me Over begging someone, we’ll assume a man, to make her over, an idea that seems to undo all the power her independent woman status has given her. By comparison, it wasn’t until Blige was able to say she wouldn’t change a thing on Just Fine that she sounded truly joyous. Much better is Please Don’t Stop, a song that gives Cole an uncharacteristically upbeat rhythm to bounce over, which she capably handles with her usual blend or vocal restraint and expression. A Different Me may explore new territory, but in the end it thankfully doesn’t stray too far from Cole’s musical home.

Cole’s found the majority of her radio success when paired with a rough around the edges rapper, and A Different Me recruits Tupac, or rather the ghost of Tupac, for its lead single Playa Cardz Right. Cardz Right puts Pac’s thug poetics in duet with Cole’s gripping vocals to powerful effect, but there’s a certain chemistry missing that would make it a true classic, probably because Pac’s been dead for 12 years. I’ll let Cardz Right slide because it’s a damn good track, but the Pac duet insanity has to stop. At this point we’re exploiting his memory more than honoring it. A better collaboration is the riding Oh Oh, Yeah Yeah, a track that brings back Cole’s trademark teardrop vocal style for lines like, “all I needed you to do was believe in us.” Surprisingly, Nas steps in for the guest verse, and while his rhyme’s aren’t going down in hip-hop history, he gives the track a much needed male perspective. But ultimately it’s the power of Keyshia, and Keyshia alone, that makes A Different Me such a good album. Whether she’s taking the vocal fireworks approach on Where This Love Could End Up or getting steamy on Brand New, Keyshia Cole has become musical royalty. All hail the future Queen of R&B.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted December 14, 2008
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