Like a true diva, eight-time Grammy nominee Fantasia opens “Back to Me,” her third album, saying “You know, sometimes you have to put yourself first.” Before delving into the mid-tempo, old school “I’m Doin’ Me.” The song is a shout out to all her sisters to love themselves enough to not pick a man who can’t love you “equally.”
It’s always tempting to filter an album’s lyrics through a singer’s personal life, especially when said life has gone from personal to public, as Fantasia’s has done recently. But given that this album was long completed before her recent troubles, we’re taking the album at face value.
Fantasia has enlisted an A Team of collaborators here, including Cee-Lo, Ne-Yo, Jim Jonsin, Claude Kelly and Rico Love, with varied results. “Back to Me” succeeds best when it takes an old school approach, such as on “I’m Doin’ Me,” first smash single “Bittersweet,” the layered, lush, finger-snapping “Collard Greens and Cornbread” and the sexy “Teach Me.”
There’s a certain timelessness to those tracks, whereas a tune like “Man of the House” is weighed down under its generic tone and synthetic beats. On the cacophonous “Move Me,” Fantasia’s fighting against a bombastic production. Mighty as her voice is—and make no mistake—she may be the finest, purest vocalist to ever come out of the “American Idol” juggernaut, Fantasia can’t compete with everything going on in that track. Oddly, the somewhat similar heavy-handedness works on “The Thrill is Gone” (not a remake of the B.B. King classic).
On the sparkling “Falling in Love Tonight,” the production team gets the blend of contemporary and classic just right. A sure single, “Even Angels,” is gorgeous; but, quite frankly, anyone from Miley Cyrus to Beyonce could have cut it. What Fantasia adds is an emotional investment that many artists are afraid to, or can’t. bring to a song.
Where “Back to Me Soars” is when Fantasia quits trying to follow any hitmaking formula and just lets her voice and feelings take over. While not every track fulfills that promise, enough of the selections on “Back to Me” do to warrant a big thumbs up.