While “American Idol” winners have blown up (Clarkson, Underwood) or fizzled (DeWyze,) Fantasia Barrino’s always been steadily, moderately, successful without a ton of fanfare. Since her coronation as the Season 3 winner almost ten years ago, the North Carolina native has released three albums that have gone Gold or better. She’s scored a series of hits on the R&B chart.She did a successful run on Broadway in The Color Purple. She’s even got a Grammy under her belt, joining the aforementioned Clarkson and Underwood as the only AmIdol champs to earn one of those trophies. Her lack of crossover appeal just might be why she’s not mentioned in the same breath as those folks, or even Chris Daughtry or Jennifer Hudson. Pop radio kinda ignores her, she doesn’t get many mainstream looks. However, she knows her audience, and her audience loves her.
If you’re a fan of Fantasia’s three previous albums, there won’t be much that surprises you on her fourth album, Side Effects of You. It’s a pleasing (but not spectacular) collection of well-written R&B songs. There are subtle things you might pick up-Fantasia doesn’t scream quite as much as she used to, and there are no patented Babyface or Diane Warren attempts at adult contemporary crossover, but Side Effects falls in pretty neatly with Free Yourself, Fantasia and Back to Me.
Fantasia co-wrote most of the songs on the album, which gives the album a somewhat more personal sheen. Wisely, though, she steers clear of directly referencing the man drama that landed her on the TMZs of the world a couple of years ago and caused a rumored suicide attempt. Sure, almost all the songs are about gaining love and/or losing love, but they’re relatable to just about anyone who’s ever been in a relationship. For proof, check out the first single “Lose to Win.” Despite a somewhat awkward sample of The Commodores’ hit “Nightshift,” it strikes the perfect balance between mournful and uplifting. Fantasia’s singing from the gut and the heart on this one.
“Ain’t All Bad” rides on top of a low-key reggae groove, making it a great summer song, while the sassy “Change Your Mind” successfully interpolates Whitney Houston’s smash “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” It’s a nice, low-key shout out to someone who was undoubtedly a major influence on Fantasia’s singing career.
Side Effects is solid straight through, and while there are no slam-dunk one-listen smashes, there’s also not one terrible song on the entire album. Things do get a little awkward a time or two, though. Missy Elliott (who has appeared on each of Fantasia’s previous album) completely torpedoes the pleasant Kelly Rowland duet “Without Me.” Elliott has a pleasant singing voice that would have served this song much better than the 16 bars she decides to drop. Also, while Fantasia’s a fantastic singer, she probably shouldn’t talk so much. “Get it Right” is a party-starter reminiscent of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!,” but ‘Tasia’s speaking voice (think Macy Gray) screaming “GIVE THE MOTHERFUCKING DRUMMER SOME!”?-a little jarring.
The fact that Fantasia is (just about) the only former “Idol” champ whose album I would immediately give time to speaks to my love of R&B, sure. But it’s not like I’m running to the record store to pick up Ruben Studdard or Jordin Sparks albums, you know? Homegirl’s skills are undeniable. It’s time that her music got props.