Melanie Fiona

We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club. Fortunately, we end up liking some of them. In Playlisted, we share our latest recommendations.

Album: The MF Life by Melanie Fiona (out now on Universal Republic)

Press play if you like: Torch songs; old-school/new-school soul hybrids à la Amy Winehouse; sterling voices; drama.

Some background: Melanie Fiona’s 2009 debut The Bridge was too cute by half, an album of contemporized Motown that offered an abundance of attitude but not much in the way of songs. Tucked toward the end of the record, though, was a single that teased the Canadian R&B singer’s true promise: “It Kills Me,” a tense ballad that cast Fiona as a woman pushed to the edge—and possibly past it—by her unfaithful man. It was hard to imagine any of the singer’s contemporaries committing themselves so completely to such an unglamorous role; she sang like she was an actual danger to herself and those around her. Fiona’s winning sophomore album The MF Life doubles down on that high drama. On the album’s hit “4 AM,” a late-night meltdown in the “Marvin’s Room” mold, Fiona fights for her sanity when her boyfriend won’t answer his phone. Her mind races through worst-case scenarios. “He’s probably somewhere with a dancer, sipping champagne,” she mourns, harshly concluding, “I’m hurting and he don’t even care.” The MF Life covers a lot of stylistic ground, breaking up its torch songs with convincing empowerment tracks (“This Time,” “Change The Record”) and hard-boiled soul throwbacks (“Bones,” “Running”), but the constant is Fiona’s expressive voice. She sings with such weary authority that even the album’s poppiest songs resonate with earned emotion.

Try this: Though The MF Life is usually careful to moderate its retro tendencies, it allows Fiona one unabashed “And I Am Telling You” moment: the showstopper “Wrong Side Of A Love Song.” Like most of the record, it doesn’t pull punches. “What you gotta know about me,” she wails, “is I’m dying in this lonely hell.”

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