Music moves with whirlwind velocity, so it makes sense that 2009’s pop landscape bears almost no resemblance to 2004’s. Five years ago, Ciara was the reigning queen of urban pop; she still has a career, but she undoubtedly plays second fiddle to sexpots like Rihanna and Keri Hilson. Amerie Mi Marie Rogers has endured a similar fate. In 2005, Amerie’s summery single “1 Thing” was that year’s earworm du jour, but since then, the Korean-born singer has kept quiet — an unwise move, considering that even headline-dominating rappers are failing spectacularly to sell records. It’s an increasingly harsh industry, but, evidently, it still finds room to accommodate the stars of yesteryear, as exemplified by the immediately danceable productions on Ciara’s Fantasy Ride and, more recently, Amerie’s In Love & War. These albums confirm a simple, reassuring fact: There is always agreeable pop to be made.
Thankfully, Amerie has one of the lustiest voices around. Raspy and emotional, it oozes intensity and conveys sexually charged angst perfectly — good thing, since sexually charged angst is a theme that she harps on throughout In Love & War. On “Tell Me You Love Me,” she furiously yowls the hook over skeletal drums. The thumping Southern rock track “Higher” puts a grittier spin on a familiar sentiment: namely, you are an asshole. But “Why R U,” a boom-bap-infused hip-hop track that would have sounded fresh in 1994, is more somber than angry. “[You’re] the only thing that I care about,” she whimpers.
Even if the content is slightly less than novel, Amerie transcends such a problem with her vocal chops and striking versatility. She handles virtually every style that her producers (Teddy Riley, Warryn Campbell) throw at her with aplomb, although the Rihanna-aping “Heard ‘Em All” is one notable exception. Elsewhere, she renders the mushy beat on “Swag Back” an afterthought with dynamic personality and displays natural chemistry with her collaborators. “Pretty Brown,” her torment-ridden duet with Trey Songz, compellingly proves as much, and a particularly animated Lil Wayne delivers one of the nastiest couplets of the year on “Heard ‘Em All Remix”: “You ain’t gotta love me, ’cause the world do/ And I ain’t gotta do me, ’cause your girl do.”
The last third of In Love & War is riddled with nondescript slow-dance tunes like “Dear John” and “The Flowers,” but that’s fine. Such tepidness serves as a breather after the album’s previous excitement. With In Love & War, Amerie has adopted to trying times with spunk and style, grace and flair. And, yes, swag.