British RnB seems to be in a pretty dire state at the moment. Ms Dynamite has gone from Mercury Prize to a mere memory, Alesha Dixon’s solo single has failed to catch fire the way her former band Mis-teeq did, and starlets such as Keisha White and Terri Walker have performed solidly if unspectacularly.
Jamelia Davis’ third album therefore, has been eagerly awaited by fans of the genre. Jamelia has always been one step ahead of her competition thanks to her winning mix of mix of R&B, hip hop, and pop and finely tuned eye for a great song, as ably demonstrated on 2003’s Superstar. She’s been dubbed ‘the British Beyonce‘ but unlike her US counterpart she doesn’t stuff her albums to bursting point with dirge-like ballads.
Walk With Me continues that trend of strong songwriting – Jamelia may not have the most distinctive voice of her contemporaries, but the songs here are the finest pop-soul you’ll find this side of the Sugababes. There may be a huge credit list of songwriters and producers, but it still doesn’t feel like ‘factory line’ pop.
The album’s first single, Something About You, throws something of a curveball however by moving away from her usual sound to produce something a bit more rocky. There’s even guitars on the chorus, and you could easily imagine Avril Lavigne performing it. It’s nice enough, but feels a rather too obvious bid to move Jamelia to a ‘more mature’ audience.
She’s better when she concentrates on the sassy soul that made her name. Know My Name is superb, a smart shot against boorish men on the pick-up, while Get Up Get Out mixes a woozy string section, swearing (it’s a shock to hear someone as seemingly nice and wholesome as Jamelia singing “motherfucker” even if it is bleeped) and angry ‘break up’ lyrics to terrific effect.
Best of all though is the inventive use of samples on two songs. No More builds its melody on top of the memorable keyboard motif from The Stranglers‘ Golden Brown, and becomes a gloriously soaring gospel-like song. Lyrically, it’s a close cousin of Thank You, and the sentiments of walking away from an abusive relationship remain inspiring and touching.
Even better is the stormingly good Beware Of The Dog, sampling Depeche Mode‘s Personal Jesus (following the Sugababes’ example on It Ain’t Easy). Designed to be played loud, it’s franticly danceable, fresh and funky and even has the nerve to steal the ‘reach out and touch’ line from the Depeche original. It could well be the best thing she’s ever done.
Inevitably, there are moments where it does slip into generic ‘soul/pop lite’ moments – La La Love (the only song that Jamelia didn’t have a hand in writing) is a bit too light and fluffy for its own good, while the Afrika Bambaataa produced Do Me Right has an ill-advised Middle Eastern flavour to it that doesn’t suit Jamelia’s voice at all.
Yet moments like this are few and far-between, and generally this is Jamelia’s finest album yet. Now happily engaged and the mother of two children, she may be a million miles away from the relationship that inspired her earlier songs, but she retains an edge and class that cements her position as this country’s leading soul vocalist.