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If Melanie Fiona‘s debut The Bridge detailed the series of unfortunate events that led up to the catastrophic end of a bad relationship, The MF Life, her sophomore effort, is the soundtrack that carries the listener through the wake of the post-breakup aftermath, and into the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

On the surface, the album has the potential to give off a relatively melancholy vibe, bolstered by a negative (but justified) stance on relationships. However, upon delving deeper, it’s clear that the project truly tells the story of a young woman’s long overdue venture in regaining knowledge of self, while relentlessly gripping the reigns of empowerment. Themes of self-assertion perpetually flow throughout each of the 13 (standard edition) tracks; signifying the growth that Fiona has experienced both as an artist, and more importantly, as a woman, in the three years since our last encounter with her artistry.

No need to debate her vocal ability. Fiona is head and shoulders above most of her peers in that department, a quality that’s undervalued in the current musical climate. In this case, however, it doesn’t go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, the vocals set the tone for the experience. Her uncanny ability to add emotional inflection at the climax of a record by simply belting out the lyric gives the project a sonic advantage.

Not one track exemplifies this better than the emotion-laden Wrong Side Of A Love Song, which is tempered by string-heavy Jack Splash production; reminiscent of the golden age of Motown. That same emotional power is displayed prominently on  the album’s first two singles: the anthemic Gone & Never Coming Back and the Rico Love-produced 4 AM, which is the album’s most successful single to date.

Also deserving of single treatment, the radio-ready This Time (featuring Fiona’s Roc Nation brethren J. Cole) and the pop-soul tinged Change The Record which features a verse from one of hip-hop’s reigning cross-over kings B.o.B. Both of which have been received warmly across the blogosphere and in live performances alike.

Not to be overlooked, the cautionary “I’ve Been That Girl” finds Fiona giving a bit of forewarning to the new girl in her ex’s life. It was produced by T-Minus and sounds like something that could have easily fit into the tracklisting of Drake‘s latest album “Take Care” with a few lyrical tweaks. Not for nothing, though. Aubrey takes co-writing credit on the song, marking the pairs first released collaboration since they were in a band together back in Toronto years ago.

Fiona departs from her comfort zone on the Pen Up Girls-penned “Watch Me Work” (an sassy uptempo-ish assertion of independence and dominance) and the sultry Jack Splash-produced “Bones.” The latter finds Fiona giving a new meaning to loving someone deeply. She urgently sings:

Straight through your skin, past your soul to your bones/further inside you than you’ve ever known/desperately trying to feel ya/I need your bones

Interpret that how you please.

The album also features appearances from Nas, John Legend and T-Pain, accompanied by production at the hands No ID, Salaam Remi and more. By all accounts, it’s a solid performance on all sides. The question left to be seen, is how the public will receive it.

The MF Life is an important piece for this time in R&B. While many artists have made good use of the rhythm and forgotten about the blues, Melanie Fiona proves that she’s not afraid to get emotionally vulnerable to discuss the dark side of a relationship. It’s paid off for her, and hopefully the listening world will take notice.

Sum it up in a sentence: She’s fed up with the emotional drama, and more than ready to get back to loving herself.
Non-Single Stand-out moment(s): “Bones” and “I’ve Been That Girl”
Least Memorable Moment(s): “Can’t Say I Never Loved You”

Overall Rating: 4.5/5.0

The MF Life is in stores and online today. Preview it on Spotify.

Ready to buy? iTunes | Amazon