A guest entry here from regular FT reader and past Focus Group participant Job de Wit, with his translated review that will appear in the Netherlands’ OOR magazine shortly:

AALIYAH — Aaliyah

The futuristic pop that R&B is today found its form on “One In A Million,” Aaliyah’s second album from ’96. Timbaland’s productions and Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott’s songs saw to that. This follow-up album appears in a radically changed musical environment. “One In A Million” was a compromise between the traditional R&B shaped by R. Kelly on Aaliyah’s debut album and the unproven vision of Timbaland and Missy. In the meantime, Aaliyah Houghton has turned 22 years old and Aaliyah is the phenomenal album that should be able to maker believers out of any remaining R&B sceptics not yet convinced by Destiny’s Child. Even the ballads, usually the collective weak spot of most R&B albums, are beautiful.

For a lot of people the moment they caught on to Aaliyah was hearing the single “Are You That Somebody?” (’98), or at least “Try Again” (’00). The good news is that Stephen ‘Static’ Garrett, the man who wrote both of them, is responsible for all but two songs on Aaliyah. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s those two songs that are the weakest links on this album. Timbaland has made himself less essential, or rather, has found himself a lot of able disciples. His four productions are, nevertheless, pretty fantastic. “Try Again”‘s acid R&B we know. New single “We Need A Resolution” continues the Eastern vibe on Missy’s hit “Get Ur Freak On,” not beat-wise but in the twirling melody. In it, Aaliyah tries in vain to save a faltering relationship. There is not going to be a resolution, she knows it and you can hear it. “More Than A Woman” is classic Timbaland pop, and certainly not the only readymade hit around here. Missy Elliott has written “I Care 4 U,” a ballad to be sung preferably under a full moon. Timbaland takes care of his trademark mouth percussion, and drum rolls like those in Missy’s “X-Stasy”. For the sexy (Aaliyah’s no longer under age – not that that ever stopped her getting married or something) “Rock Da Boat,” finally, Timbaland reinterprets tender eighties soul, crucially without those dated Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis production values.

Speaking of Janet Jackson, she would kill to get her hands on a song like “Those Were The Days,” produced by Rapture Stewart and Eric Seats, known for Destiny Child’s “Survivor.” This duo is also responsible for the airy, pretty “Loose Rap,” instant hit “Extra Smooth,” those cool beats on the tough “U Got Nerve” and the spartan arrangement (beat, harp, piano – no bass) of “It’s Whatever.” It’s a welcome relief after “I Refuse,” a nervous hyperballad with neurotic piano parts, wailing guitar, strings and horns. By this time we’ve already heard a passionate waltz (“Never No More”) and the Caribbean touch of “Read Between The Lines,” both from the hands of new producer Bud’da. Though Korn fan Aaliyah may think differently, doing metal R&B is probably one creative idea too far. Both “What If” and “I Can Be” try very hard anyway to prove the opposite. If anything, it adds to the experimental nature of an album that in all likelihood will appeal more to Basement Jaxx lovers than the R. Kelly fan club.

Job de Wit, 4 July 2001