Tweet and Ashanti were poised for a showdown back in 2002 when their debut albums dropped on the very same day. The battle was largely a media creation (the two women aren’t exactly pitted against each other like 2Pac and Biggie, and there’s no evidence of any bad blood between them), but the simultaneous arrival of two new R&B songbirds—one backed by Missy Elliott and Timbaland, the other by Ja Rule and Murder, Inc.—seemed worthy of at least a little bit of spilt ink. Three years later, Ashanti has amassed five platinum plaques and a slew of chart hits while the finer Tweet has had to settle for one gold record and a long-delayed follow-up. The album, It’s Me Again, doesn’t stray too far from the formula of Tweet’s stellar debut: cool, acoustic-driven midtempo ballads with a few club bangers thrown in for good measure, including the fun and funky “Sports, Sex & Food” and the discofied “Things I Don’t Mean.” This time, though, the club tracks are a bit less immediate and the slower songs, particularly “Small Change” and “I’m Done,” don’t distinguish themselves from one another the way they did on Southern Hummingbird. Subtle tracks like the horns-aplenty “Iceberg” and “You” benefit from repeat spins, which means urban radio will probably shy away—compared to Hummingbird‘s slinky masturbation anthem “Oops (Oh My),” “Turn Da Lights Off” is a demure lead single. (Mentor Missy Elliott takes her hype-woman routine to irritating new extremes here, but the song’s retro-soul samples—Nat King Cole, Luther Vandross singing Marvin Gaye—provide the perfect surface noise for Tweet’s dewy vocal.) On the other hand, more patient, adult-oriented stations and listeners, which should be Tweet’s target audience anyway, are likely to warm up to the album if given the chance. To Tweet’s credit, there are more gems on It’s Me Again than on Ashanti’s three albums put together.
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