Aaliyah : Aaliyah

Tasteful album fails to transcend 'satisfying'

She doesn’t hate him so much right now, and she isn’t milking him to pay those bills, bills, bills either. The vengeance fantasies and bling-bling lifestyles of so many of her contemporaries evidently hold little appeal for Aaliyah, at 22 an abnormally mature music biz veteran. Instead, she calls in the conciliation services. “[I]What’s your problem? Let’s resolve it”, [/I]she offers on ‘We Need A Resolution’, [I]”It’s official, you’ve got issues”[/I]. And so we find ourselves in the waiting room of Ramp;B’s marriage guidance counsellor, biting our lip, wondering how to deal with a messy relationship in a properly adult way.

This is where Aaliyah, much-vaunted radical princess of the scene, chooses to hang out. Listening to ‘Aaliyah’, her first album in five years, it seems only fitting. What’s most pronounced is the subtlety of it all, the tastefulness, the lack of bombast and histrionics. So rather than presenting an intergalactic mash-up of party styles, as her collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott did on ‘Miss E… So Addictive’, Aaliyah opts for a gentle subversion of diva-dom. ‘I Care 4 U’, Elliott’s one songwriting contribution, is emblematic: tiny piano flurries and precise emoting over Timbaland’s clicking-tongue percussion and a discreet whisper of wind chimes. Alongside the equally understated ‘We Need A Resolution’ (as reminiscent of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Get On The Bus’ as

Jay-Z’s ‘Big Pimpin”, incidentally), it’s one of the highlights of this graceful album.

If everything reached the standard of those tracks, we’d be contemplating the best album of 2001. As it is, the constantly evolving genius of Timbaland extends to just one more track – the grandiose ‘More Than A Woman’ – leaving the rest of the production duties to relative unknowns Rapture amp; E Seats, Bud’da and J Dub. The result is better than you’d expect, thanks to the consistently decent songs of Static, who writes ‘We Need A Resolution’, ‘Try Again’ and nearly everything else here.

A sensible, responsible, fractionally freaked atmosphere dominates, disrupted by the futurist samba of ‘Read Between The Lines’ and the slightly duff rock crossover track, ‘What If’.

‘I Refuse’ is tremendous, expanding the jaggedly baroque Ramp;B strain currently prevalent into a blowsy romantic concerto. But, for the most part, ‘Aaliyah’ is satisfying rather than extraordinary. The paradox is that, while Timbaland’s contributions improve a solid album, they also give a glimpse of how great ‘Aaliyah’ could’ve been had he found time to helm the whole thing. She has issues, he has commitments. He’s hanging out with new people all the time, and they don’t see each other as much as she, at least, would like. But she can change, too; Aaliyah can go off and be a film star now. Let’s see what their counsellors can patch up in a few years’ time.

John Mulvey

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