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Seven years after her debut at just 14 years old Aaliyah's third studio album is a bizarrely mature album. While most artists are just getting going Aaliyah's been through a career arc that has led her from pop to street to an unconventional retro-modern risk-taking version of US R&B. Lead track "We Need a Resolution" and the fantastic "Try Again" (originally released on the excellent Romeo Must Die Soundtrack) are as a mainstream as it gets and the album's pace rarely gets above medium. There'll be less hits from "Aaliyah" but it's an extraordinarily romantic exposition of passion and pain. While Missy Elliot is cranking out jams for all her "club freaks" Aaliyah is like a modern day Minnie Ripperton, exploring the pains of moving from child star to adult sex symbol. Tracks such as "Never No More" and "I Care 4 U" (featuring Missy) are slinky, twisted ballads with a film noir shade as diva Aaliyah steps catlike away from the bubblegum R&B of her contemporaries. There's even the now-obligatory rock track tacked on near the end ("I Can Be") but even this excels the standard hip-hop/rock/R&B crossover fare with it's Prince-like influences coupled with Aaliyah's own instinct for deep seduction. Aaliyah also signals a move away from her long-standing musical relationship with producer Timbaland who contributes just three cuts. Having started out heavily supported by R Kelly it now appears Aaliyah's more than able to go it alone. --Jake Barnes


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