For the past few years when Fantasia has been in the process of creating a new album, she has expressed the desire to explore a sound she’s described as “Rock/Soul.” She’s done so for her last album, Side Effects of You, and she’s done for her newest one. Whether she has actually gone through with it is a different story, but we can at least say that she delivered more of it on The Definition of.., her latest album released last Friday.
The first track, called “Crazy,” features horns and an electric guitar line in equal parts, creating a funky and edgy album opener. It’s an energetic yet calm track that features a softer vocal performance and recalls Seal’s homonymous 1991 hit in its theme. The song is followed by the lead single “No Time For It,” which with its cutesy keyboard lines and boppy beat takes us back a decade to when Fantasia released her #1 hit “When I See U.”
It’s with “So Blue” that the album starts showing more substance. The slick production work and finally a more passionate vocal from Tasia, remind us why we like to listen to her. “When I Met You” then brings more of these intricate production elements accompanying narrative lyrics and a sing along melody.
With the R.Kelly-penned “Sleeping With the One I Love” Fantasia pays hommage to James Brown via an obvious “It’s a Man’s World” nod. It’s clear that Tasia works well in an old school context, so it’s not a surprise that this is the best ballad on the album. That might also be because the other option veeres more into Adult Contemporary territory: “Ugly” is the song Fantasia performed months ago on American Idol‘s farewell season, a soaring piano-driven number that while powerful, is not exactly what we’ve come to know Fantasia for.
The album tends to lose steam in the second half with a series of mainstream sounding songs that feel either tepid or forced. “Stay Up,” a collaboration with singer and songwriter Stacy Barthe features a cool upbeat production, but makes her feel like a featured act. Similarly, Fantasia’s duet with Aloe Blacc on “Roller Coasters” seems more of his work than hers. “Wait For You” is Fantasia’s most Pop record to date. The verses build up on a subtle piano driven beat before exploding into a full blown catchy chorus embellished with synths and tailored for CHR radio.
The last two songs on the album are definitely more in Tasia’s chords: “Lonely Legend” is a nod to Tina Turner, whom Fantasia has cited as an influence, with its “Proud Mary”-esque atmosphere and and the display of lower vocal tones in the style of Ms. Turner. “I Made It” then closes the album on a joyous note and features Tye Tribett and a full chorus chanting “thank you Lord” behind Fantasia’s realest vocal performance on this record. Raw, free and soaring, it is a spiritual realisation of all the blessings coming from above.
Despite the assertive title, by the time we finish playing the album we are left with the question “definition of what?” What is she trying to define with this record? It’s actually kind of hard to answer these questions because this collection of songs is definitely the least personal effort from Fantasia at this point in her career. Her past work had always something to relate to, while here it seems like the welcomed quest for more experimental sounds has come at the expense of identity. After an album as cohesive and consistent as her last one, the expectation was to get something that retained the heartfelt and genuine quality of lyrical content, but with an eye open to new directions. Unfortunately, the process towards finding new sounds needs some more fine tuning to achieve this balance.