Love Life (International Edition) * Tamia * R&B * June 9, 2015
Tamia occupies an odd place in the musical pantheon. Despite having been in the game for nearly twenty years, she only has one gold album (A Nu Day) and her highest charting single is a remake of her own song (So Into You) by rapper Fabolous in which she provides the guest vocals. Despite being only 19 when she first greeted our ears on You Put A Move On My Heart, she has always had a grown and sexy sound. Despite having a somewhat lowkey profile, she has never gone without a label and the longest gap in her discography was due to her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and wanting to spend time with her two children. She is usually not the first person you think of when it comes to amazing voices, but she always occupies that list somewhere, even if you’re unfamiliar with the bulk of her work.
Her sixth studio album, Love Life, is dedicated to the sexier times in a woman’s and couples’ lives. But, as we have seen with other singers, the urge to either gain or maintain relevance has sometimes led to either songs that don’t fit their profile or songs that are interesting for the moment only to fade away. Can she maintain a style that fans have grown to love and expect without alienating newer listeners? There’s only one way to find out.
1. Love Falls Over Me – The first track of the album is mid-tempo, romantic track about the way that she feels about her man when they are together. While it may seem odd to some to start a project off with a slower song, this is par for the course for Tamia as all but her first album started this way. Her vocals are strong and engaging, drawing the listener in right away with her dynamic tone that adds energy without going overdoing it on the adlibs. The production throughout most of the track has a nice R&pop feel to it, though there is drumbeat on the chorus that sounds just slight off-kilter from the rest of the track and can be a little distracting. The lyrics are pretty straightforward, but not boring and get their point across. A strong opener.
2. Chaise Lounge – This track is about being happy to see her man come home after a long time away. The lyrical realism in this track is what makes it work so well. While she is eager for their romantic interlude, she reassures him that the children are asleep before they take the risk of making love in their living room. Tamia occupies her upper register for most of this track and, while she flirts with stresses, she never strains or loses tone. The production has a live band feel to it that makes you feel like she’s performing right in front of you, giving a romantic crispness to the overall mood.
3. Sandwhich And A Soda – The first single from the album, this track has Tamia declaring her devotion to a man that knows how to love her right. The mellow and fun production by Oak and Pop adds a lot to the atmosphere with its mix of what sounds like a church organ and an acoustic guitar. The lyrics are solid and sultry, never explicitly saying what she intends to do for her lover but never dancing around it either. Tamia’s vocals shine on this track as delivery is sexy without being breathy or dull and she shows bravado without going over the top. This would be comfortable on anyone’s love night or favorite’s playlist.
4. Nowhere – The first, more uptempo track on the album, this track is about how Tamia’s love can keep her man from straying. The singer’s vocals are dynamic and fit the mood of the track by adding a little sassiness to her tone. The harmonies in the background are so subtle that it can be hard to hear them at times, though they always seem to ramp up when needed. The production is somewhat generic, but considering how strong Tamia’s vocals are, it’s probably best not to get to verbose on the beatwork or the combination might overwhelm the listener. There is an oddly placed racecar sound effect on the chorus, though, that can be distracting if your ear can detect it. The lyrics here are basic but never descend into nonsense. Ultimately, while it probably won’t be anyone’s favorite track on the album, it does serve to break up the slower tracks and keep the listener engaged.
5. Lipstick – For this track, Tamia sets the scene for a night of romance with her baby. Lyrically, this song is one of the standouts of the album because she there is a building sense of anticipation throughout thanks to this sounding like she making plans for the two of them. The chorus’ refrain, messin’ up my lipstick, works well as the mind can picture all the ways that can happen; starting with a kiss and getting more explicit from there. Her tone is seductive and she never lets the adlibs overtake the mood by showing out too much vocally. Even the production is an excellent fit as it has its own romantic energy to it independent of Tamia’s stylings and even has its own subtle flourishes. A standout track.
6. Special – From the beginning, some listeners might think that they’ve heard this song before due to the production. While we can’t place the sample being used, it adds a familiarity to the R&pop track that works for the theme, especially when the switch-up comes during the last bridge. About Tamia knowing that the love she shares with her significant other isn’t something that can be easily replaced, her vocals are strong and lovely without tilting into unneeded sexy as this song requires an earnestness that she delivers on just fine. The lyrics are pretty straightforward and common for this type of song but get their point across.
7. Like You Do – The second of the up-tempo tracks on the standard edition, this is probably one of the more radio-friendly tracks album, due almost entirely to the use of the Feenin’ sample in the production and the rhythm of the lyrics. Tamia’s vocals work well with the more particular production and she compensates by not taking her vocals in to overdrive. Not that she sounds boring; she still manages to give good tone despite having to dial back some. Even the sporatic use of autotune, doesn’t make the track sound any worse than it would without it. The lyrics are pretty basic here, which is becoming a theme of the album, but it doesn’t detract from the experience. A strong track.
8. Stuck With Me – Produced by Polow Da Don, the seductive second single has the singer telling her man that she would rather be with him on his worst day than anyone else on their best. Her vocals are flawless and lovely, with her choosing to keep the runs and adlibs to a minimum to play up the emotion of the track, which she does well. The beatwork initially has you thinking that you might be in for a babymaker when it’s actually the kind of love song that makes you ache for the one that holds your heart. The lyrics are solid and accessible and might have a few people making phone calls to that special person before the song is over. A standout track.
9. No Lie – The somewhat screwed intro on the production sets you up for the radio-friendly slow jam with a little bit of throwback feel. This track has Tamia telling her lover not to deny how much he wants her because she will make it worth it. The lyrics are par for the course for this type of track, but it’s saved from mediocrity by the singer’s vocals which are engaging and sensual. A strong track.
10. Day One – The track with the most pop feel to it on the album, this piano-led ballad would be the showpiece of most artists’ album in order to play up their vocal prowess, but it’s just another day when it comes to Tamia as she never gives less than her best on any song. Again, this is not a lyrical powerhouse of a song, which DOES show more than it does on the other tracks because there the production lacks the emotional resonance to cover for them. While this might be the most skippable of the tracks on this project, it still is worth more than a few listens.
11. Black Butterfly – A remake of the 1984 Deniece Williams track about black pride ends the standard edition. Tamia’s vocals are strong and lush, giving her own emotional resonance to the track that doesn’t rely too much on Williams’ template. The harmonies are subtle but needed, adding depth to the track without being obvious. The song has always been lyrically strong and there are no changes made to mess with that assessment. The downside is the production. Most of the track lacks the loftiness of the original, which could make you picture butterfly in flight, by way of a more subdued, bass-heavy beatwork. And the decision to fuse the somewhat acoustic beginning with a more jazz-styled instrumentation towards the end creates a confused feeling sonically and give the prideful song a more subtle romantic feel. Despite the misstep, though, this is a standout track.
12. You Give Me Something (Bonus Track) – The first of the international bonus tracks, this uptempo pop track is completely different than anything else that’s been on the album up to this point. While it seems to break the production theme of slow, R&B heavy tracks, it keeps with the theme of love and fidelity. The poppy sound of the beatwork will make you want to move and the bright vocals and harmonies add to the energetic feel. The lyrics are slightly better on this track than some of the others, but they still don’t tread any new water. Perfect for radioplay outside the urban market, this track is worth a few listens.
13. Rise (Bonus Track) – If you want to make an effort (in the United States) to find one of the bonus tracks, this is the one to try to find. Breaking away from the theme of loving someone else and instead focusing on loving herself, you get the feeling that Tamia is singing about her overcoming her career worries and medical diagnosis to still give her all as a performer, wife, and mother. Her vocals are strong and inspirational as she sings of overcoming fear and troubles to be her best self. The piano-led production with its staccato drums on the verses that break into more verbose choruses are the perfect match for the lyrics, which are probably some of the strongest on the album. A good ending for the album, this is a standout track.
Tamia has found a way to show the sexy side of herself without losing what has made her special to fans, her grown and sexy sound. She doesn’t try to go too far in the sexpot direction and that’s good because it would be hard to buy from her at this point in her career. At the same time, she still manages to seduce, tantalize, and excite in way that will have listeners coming back again and again. She is sexy and sexual in her own way and, in the process, finds that thing so many other singers lack in this arena–authenticity.
Yes; Tamia occupies an odd place in music…but it is a place that’s all her own.