Fantasia may be a modern woman by most accounts – after all, her music career boomed when she won “American Idol” in 2004 – but maybe she’s an old-fashioned gal at heart.
The way her raspy voice intertwines with the retro vibe of her new “Side Effects of You” proves she’s comfortable in the rock/soul sound of decades ago. It’s a clear upgrade from 2010’s “Back to Me,” where Fantasia was in and out of her zone in the thoroughly contemporary pop/dance context.
Whereas much of that previous release felt phoned in, with the vocalist oversinging at times (perhaps in an attempt to disguise the material’s shortcomings), “Side Effects of You” sparkles with sincerity. Fantasia appears more involved in the process here, testing out subtle nuances and belting with more discretion.
She’s surprisingly suitable for the wistful, gorgeously arranged “If I Was a Bird,” conveying a downcast need for escapism in the thumping groove. Fantasia likewise dovetails with the foreboding context of “Without Me,” displaying a sardonic side as she employs a smoky/slinky delivery for lines such as, “As hard as you try to hide reality, you know the truth … What would you be without me?”
Elsewhere, Fantasia is tough in the classic R&B of “Get It Right,” eerily convincing as an obsessive lover on “End of Me,” and both stately and understated on the textured closer, “In Deep.”
There are bumps along the way. Simplistic philosophy permeates the lyrics, and Fantasia sometimes zigs when she should zag.
Yet she usually sounds invested in these songs, and it’s better to hear her flop in the experimental rhythm of “Change Your Mind” or get swarmed by an excess of adornment in the stomping “So Much to Prove” than it is to hear her simply go through the motions.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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