Fantasia – Back To Me
3 out of 5 stars
Fantasia has returned! Her latest album Back to Me is a soul-filled mish-mash of uptempo productions, synth-soul jams, and uplifting songs in one nice crossover-aimed package. Well, as much as an artist like Fantasia can be pointed in the direction of “crossover” success.
The album is an enjoyable listen, if you have always been a fan of Fantasia. If you are not, this album will not be the moment-of-conversion flashpoint that you’ve been looking for. Fantasia fans are rabid about her vocal talents while those who aren’t fans are always left in the corner scratching their heads why. Her singing is DEEPLY rooted in the Black church experience, which also makes her a good fit for the BET religious special/programming circuit. Opposite of that, if you have no idea what that subculture is like, you are only left to get caught up in the raw emotion that Fantasia spins into songs of heartache, woe, overcoming, and living life.
Sadly, a portion of the emotion is lost in the varnish that has been lacquered over Fantasia’s voice in the overproduced songs that this album has. While the songs aren’t necessarily “bad”, you get a sense after a few listens that Fantasia’s voice would benefit from more soulful, live, and organic material. “Bittersweet” by Ne-Yo-affiliated producer Chuck Harmony is one of the highlights of the album – but even Fantasia’s live appearances and versions of this song give it so much more power and ferocity. Songs like “Collard Greens and Cornbread” and the excellent-but-not-quite-there “Move On Me” would really shine and benefit from the live treatment, a la Motown.
In fact, Fantasia really shines on the song that is plucked from her “Color Purple” run on Broadway, “I’m Here”. You get the sense that Fantasia is more comfortable at this stage in her career by being able to connect live with people and really bringing them into her world. It’s hard to do via record, especially with songs like “Man of the House”, which come off as album filler because of the lyrics and the depths of Fantasia’s talent.
She gives some new producers a crack at defining the Fantasia sound, but at the end of the day, it still feels like Fantasia is not quite sure of herself. Despite the album being titled Back to Me, I think Fantasia’s next album will be a tour de force. She has a fresh round of drama to write about (her recent attempted suicide is ripe for musical plucking), and I think she will figure out that her fans want her to unabashedly be that country, stomping, barefoot soul singer that she can be with no remorse. Leave the synths, effects, and gloss alone and to the pop stars. When Fantasia finds her niche and works it, we just might have a legit runner up to Aretha. Fantasia has the chops to be the Princess of Soul if anything else.
This album isn’t quite the pronouncement of her royalty, but underneath all of the sheen and major label foolishness, you can hear glimmers of promise. Once all that is shed, the full weight of songs like “Who’s Been Lovin’ You” will really be felt. Just imagine that song and the others on this album (and in her catalog) stripped down. Trey Songz just had a MTV Unplugged episode, but Fantasia is really the one who that honor should have been bestowed upon. While we wait, Back To Me will do the job nicely.