After her brilliant single “1 Thing” blew up in the summer of 2005, Amerie struggled to sustain any commercial momentum. Her third album, Because I Love It, was never even released in the U.S. after its lead single bricked at radio, and her latest album, In Love & War, was delayed throughout most of 2009. And that’s a shame, since Because I Love It boasted some of the R&B singer’s riskiest, most creative tracks. War follows in that same vein: If there’s nothing here that’s as immediately gripping as Rich Harrison’s production on “1 Thing,” the horn sample and staccato drumline on opener “Tell Me You Love Me” comes awfully close, while “Dangerous” rides along a slithering and deep funk groove. The lack of polish to the production suits Amerie’s rough, throaty vocals well, and what she lacks in technical precision is offset by her ability to commit to the emotions at the core of each song. She sounds positively smitten on “Pretty Brown Eyes,” a terrific adaptation of Mint Condition’s “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).” Even better is “Higher,” a rock-edged track on which she snarls with the kind of ferocity not often heard since the heyday of Betty Davis. In terms of personality and originality, Amerie’s latest is on par with Solange’s Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. As with that slept-on record, War is deserving of greater commercial impact than it is likely to earn.
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