The first step towards enjoying Fantasia’s new album “Back to Me” is forgetting about all of the idiotic tabloid junk that she seems to have been a willing participant in recently. Honestly, the whole “suicide attempt” shouldn’t even be a big issue-after all, Fantasia’s not the first person to pull a crass publicity stunt to sell records and she certainly won’t be the last (it still annoys me, though).

The fact of the matter is that Fantasia’s one of those singers who makes music that’s pretty impossible to cross over. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s frustrated many record company bigwigs who’ve struggled to get their artists the widest audience possible. I guess Fantasia’s management figured that if the music wasn’t going to do the trick, then they might as well go after some TMZ coverage.

The good thing about “Back to Me” is that it’s not the musical equivalent of a desperate crossover attempt. There are no awkward rapper collaborations, no trendy of-the-moment club jams. Fantasia didn’t pull an Usher (sacrifice his long-term fanbase for a short-term pop hit, a move that will bite him in the ass a few years from now). “Back to Me” is a straight-up contemporary R&B album with adult appeal. The lyrics (even if they’re somewhat banal) are mature, and Fantasia’s raspy roar (which is, was and always will be her main calling card) is as churchy as ever, even while she appears to have reined in her inclinations to oversing.

Even despite major songwriting and production contributions (barring several solid efforts from Ne-Yo and his musical partner Chuck Harmony), “Back to Me” is a consistently satisfying effort. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, just songs about finding love and losing love consistent with most good music. The music is a little sterile sounding at times, but Fantasia is able to make the best of even the most simple of songs. She takes a satisfying left turn with the reggae-flavored “Teach Me” (giving a bit of a Lauryn Hill vibe) and doesn’t embarrass herself on the Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-sampling “Collard Greens & Cornbread”. Her eclecticism is perhaps her most underrated trait-she swings from the sassy “Man of the House” to the album-closing triumphant ballad “I’m Here” with a fair amount of ease.

It’s time for Fantasia to get her props as one of the few “Idol” alums who has been able to build up a consistent musical catalog. With “Back to Me”, she stakes her claim as one of modern R&B’s most dependable hitmakers, and while her music might not be the greatest fit on Top 40 radio, it’s got value that will last long after today’s pop hitmakers have faded.

Grade: B

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