Album Review: Fantasia, Sketchbook

sketchbook

Fantasia

Sketchbook (released October 11, 2019)

In an industry full of fraudulence and fakery, sometimes the truth hits you like an uppercut from the Hulk.

That’s how a lot of Fantasia fans felt recently when the start admitted that she wasn’t a fan of her 2016 LP, The Definition Of…

I mean, she really disliked it.

My boys over at YouKnowIGotSoul.com caught up with her for a recent interview, where she explained that she wasn’t comfortable being wedged into the R&B box and felt restricted.

It’s rare you get that kind of honesty, but it’s also a little unnerving for fans – who’s to say that she won’t change her mind and denounce her most recent album too if things don’t work out?

I guess there’s only one solution for Tasia – throw on your M. Bison cap and show and prove.

Sketchbook, Fantasia’s sixth studio LP and the first under her Rock Soul imprint, offers up a much more diverse sound than the Fantasia you’re accustomed to. And much like the name of her label, the marriage of soul and rock is apparent upfront.

Just check out the curious album opener “History” – it starts out with trap drums before being overtaken with electric guitars, while Tasia proclaims that this is the “comeback of the century” – “you know I’m a legend, I’m preaching to you every day like a reverend,” she yells, in an attempt to convince both the listener and herself of her greatness.

The album’s first single “Enough” garnered a ton of buzz upon release and it’s worthy of all the hype. It’s one of those patented Tasia performances; her cup runneth over with passion. But quite honestly, it’s kind of an anomaly on this album. Outside of “Believer” is the only thing that feels like a classic Fantasia song.

But don’t worry, change is sometimes good.

I’m a sucker for two things – a sax and an acoustic guitar – and “The Way” is the best of both worlds, presenting a jazzy, gentle feel that Tasia doesn’t overwhelm with her powerful pipes. Meanwhile, strings and beautiful piano keys accent the mighty “Bad Girl,” which sounds like the theme song from a stage play. “I’m just being who I am,” she proclaims, “ it’s not my fault if somehow I make you feel less than a man.” Yikes.

Sketchbook is also heavy on inspiration. “Free” is appropriately uplifting, even including a nice Nipsey Hussle tribute. Likewise, “Fighting” is in the same vein, except with, ugh, Future dropping his Boomhauer-sounding bars at the end.

That’s one of my biggest issues with Sketchbook. While I don’t mind most of the experimental production, a lot of the trap-inspired stuff just feels forced. “PTSD” is actually very well produced – it’s not nearly as monotonous as most trap songs – but Tasia gets lost in a sea of vocal effects. And the LAST thing I needed to hear in 2019 was T-Pain of all people yelling GREAT GOOGILY MOOGILY over somebody’s track. I thought we left that mess back in 2011.

I fully expect “Holy Ghost” to be part of every church youth service for the next two years (if the kids get the chance to Milly Rock in the Lord’s house, you KNOW they’re gonna take it) but it still feels really gimmicky. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the well-sung but instantly forgettable “Take Off” – coincidentally, the same kind of serviceable but bland pop track from Tasia’s old stomping grounds of American Idol. I’d rather we’d seen less of these and more offerings like the album closer “Looking for You,” a stirring duet with Mama Diane.

Sketchbook is all about reinvention, and like all experiments, every failure comes with a newfound success. It’s an uneven package overall but there are significant wins.

Hopefully she’s at least proud of this one.

Best tracks: “Enough,” “The Way,” “Bad Girl”

3.5 stars out of 5

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