Keri Hilson's long-delayed debut album, In a Perfect World..., comes with high expectations due to her previous hit songwriting credits (Britney Spears's "Gimme More," Omarion's "Ice Box"), as well as the involvement of producer extraordinaire Timbaland. Add a featured spot on one of 2007's biggest songs, Timbaland's "The Way I Are," as well as production from the likes of Danja and Polow da Don and guest spots from Keyshia Cole, Lil' Wayne, Kanye West, Akon and Ne-Yo, and the pieces are in place for success. What we have is an eager-to-please radio-friendly effort.
And please it does -- in spots. "Knock You Down" is a bouncy synth-heavy piece that bounces between a steady 4/4 Motown feel on the verses and stuttering drums on the chorus. "Return the Favor" is adventurous pop with Timbaland's signature dizzying 22nd-century flair that he's been employing ever since 2006. The best tracks, not surprisingly, are the ones that feature the most interesting production or are collaborations.
After the lively first half, the album slows down, and Hilson is left to carry the album on her own, a point at which steam is lost. The album plays it too safe in its challenge to conquer radio, and the album lacks the drama and dynamics that made recent great modern R&B/pop, diva-fronted albums like Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad and Ciara's The Evolution so endurable and captivating. Alone, tracks such as "Intuition" and "Tell Him The Truth" could very well be hits, but they only halt the momentum when packaged together with stronger songs like the sensual gloss of "Make Love" or the thumping sensitivity of "Alienated."
If In a Perfect World... sounds all too familiar at certain points, it's only because Hilson herself is responsible for some of the hits that have helped to shape pop's current sound. Hilson does distinguish herself by being a streetwise girl with a vulnerable side, which breathes a bit of personality into the album's extremely slick exterior. She manages to not get lost in the blazing, energetic soundscapes that are provided for her, which speaks to her impressive ability to meld with a busy, complicated track and is remniscent of what made "The Way I Are" so enjoyable.
As a debut, In a Perfect World... does show promise amongst several solid songs and is a proper introduction, but a more distinct line between Hilson as a songwriter and Hilson as an artist will be needed to make the next album more engaging and fresh.