Like Melinda Doolittle, another American Idol second runner-up, Elliott Yamin is an old-school soul singer whose genuine interpretive skills often seemed out of place on the talent show’s karaoke stage and whose primary influences are out of step with those of his contemporaries on the pop music scene. While Yamin moved over 600,000 copies of his self-titled debut on the strength of the unexpected Top 40 hit “Wait for You,” much of that debut record shoehorned the singer into a lite-R&B and adult contemporary style better suited for the likes of David Archuleta.
That problem is only exacerbated by the equally ill-fitting, badly dated R&B production on his sophomore effort Fight for Love. The album’s attempts at modern flourishes on cuts like opener “Let Love Be” and the amelodic title track, a frankly awful choice for a leadoff single, aim for Ne-Yo, but sound more akin to Bel Biv DeVoe. Unless Yamin and his producers were attempting to ignite a New Jack Swing or Tevin Campbell nostalgia movement, the production here just doesn’t work. Driven by too-heavy drum machine backbeats, most of the tracks settle into a momentum-less midtempo groove, and songs like “Can’t Keep on Loving You,” “Know Better,” and “Don’t Be Afraid” are simply too cliché-addled and indistinct to rise above the morass of slow-jam schmaltz.
Only on “Cold Heart,” which drops the slick production and favorably recalls the retro-soul of Nikka Costa’s Pebble to a Pearl and Doolittle’s terrific Coming Back to You, does the album come to life. Yamin sounds like he relishes the chance to sing something with a little bite to it, even if the song’s lack of a strong melody eventually lets him down. And that’s what’s such a shame about Fight for Love: Yamin is perhaps the most capable male vocalist to emerge from Idol, but he’s been saddled with—and, in a few instances, co-written— material that’s every bit as inert as the coronation power ballads the show’s winners are contractually bound to sing. And he may put up an admirable fight here, singing these lifeless songs with a conviction they don’t merit over a sonic palette that doesn’t suit his more subtle gifts, but it’s a fight he ultimately loses.