Eric is, after all, dominating me in this category (2-0; see Beyoncé and Estelle), so I might as well seize the opportunity to keep from being shut out while it’s available. “The Opportunity,” as I’m now going to call her forever, is Canadian songstress Melanie Fiona. Fresh off two recent Grammys for the song “Fool For You” with Cee Lo Green (Best R&B Song, Best Traditional R&B Performance), she has now impressed me to the point of writing really nice things about her sophomore release The MF Life.
While Eric and I do like to focus on only writing positive reviews, we try to make sure that the albums we review strongly merit such kind words. In a typical week of listening to 20 or so new releases, odds are good that the one album we’ve each selected has done a pretty great job of impressing the snot out of us. I’ll just say that selecting The MF Life this week was one of the easier choices I’ve had to make.
Why Melanie doesn’t get more mainstream recognition, I have no idea. Girl can SING. This album shows off an incredible range in vocal styles and song flavors, and every song is filled out by a powerful but natural voice that emanates silk and satin and honey and attitude. Melanie brings some heavy hitters to play on The MF Life as well, featuring J. Cole, Nas, B.o.B., John Legend, and T-Pain. Each of these features reflects the featured artist’s colors well — Legend’s is intimately soulful; B.o.B.’s is lively, poppy, sugary, and immediately delightful to the ear; and so on. I’d also like to suggest that Legend’s voice was intended from the beginning of time to coexist with Fiona’s, using “L.O.V.E.” as obvious proof.
Another clear standout is album opener “This Time,” which borrows a page or two from the Beyoncé Guide to R&B/Pop Crossover Magic and introduces the jilted lovers theme that fuels much of the album. Also, J. Cole gets to start his verse with “If looks kill, then Melanie, you a felony,” which is positively delightful. From “This Time,” Melanie descends straight into “Marvin’s Room”-style melancholia with “4AM,” complete with voicemail recording and all. It’s the lament of a girl waiting up for her man, who she suspects is out with another woman, which we find out later to be true. Her man is revealed in “6AM” to be T-Pain, which has to be a wink to his single “5 O’clock in the Morning.” I guess he was with Lily Allen after all.
There are several other songs of note — “Gone and Never Coming Back” does the best job of showing off Melanie’s vocal fireworks, and “Bones” sounds like Amy Winehouse put her own spin on Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style”. I’d also like to nominate a few songs as really terrific mashup potential, and although I don’t know how to make that happen, I’m looking at you, smart people with software:
1. “Can’t Say I Never Loved You” — please mash this with Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. Not only are they structurally similar, but oh my gosh the bittersweet juxtaposition of themes would be amazing.
2. “Change the Record” — please mash this with The Lonely Island’s “Jack Sparrow”. Okay, no thematic juxtaposition here, but listen to the chorus of “Jack Sparrow” and then listen to this song and tell me it wouldn’t be fun.
3. “This Time” — please mash this with Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”. Right tempo, right beats, right key.
Okay, I’m off my weird tangent. Melanie Fiona is a unique talent, and any comparisons I’ve made in this review are just huge testaments to how well she fits in the relevant R&B scene today. The MF Life is a fantastic R&B album with enormous pop potential, and it’s the best example of such since Beyoncé’s 4 came out last year. It’s rare for an album to be so deserving of both popular and critical attention, but Melanie has pulled it off this week.
(1) “This Time” (feat. J. Cole)
(7) “Change the Record” (feat. B.o.B.)
(8) “Gone and Never Coming Back”
(11) “Can’t Say I Never Loved You”
(12) “L.O.V.E.” (feat. John Legend)
(14) “Rock Paper Scissors”