Amerie, In Love & War (Feenix Rising/Def Jam)
If funk could walk, the first 12 minutes of In Love & War would be Jesse Owens. Producer Rich Harrison may be gone, but Amerie can still slam the dancefloor harder than anyone since Prince—and at moments you have to wonder if even the unpronounceable glyph himself wouldn't have to jump back and beg for mercy at the virile swagger packed into Amerie's every devastating "ooo!" The jagged, repetitive drums and percussive horns of "Tell Me You Love Me" are gloriously reminiscent of Amerie's own "1 Thing"; "Heard ‘Em All is based around a sinuous pseudo-Bollywood loop that gets worked so hard it transmutes into rasta declamation. "Dangerous" and "Higher" combine classic rock and funk into a seamless, explosive package that makes even successful fusions like Public Enemy or Funkadelic seem a little naïve and klutzy.
There are nine more songs here, but really, the less said about them the better. Amerie's clipped, declamatory phrasing, so perfect on the funk, sounds bland and uninvolved when she slows down the tempo, and even her best ballads come nowhere near the passion or invention of Mariah Carey—or Britney Spears, for that matter. Someday, maybe, Amerie will recognize her strengths and make an album that kicks from start to finish—and when she does, that album will be one of the greatest funk documents of all time. In the meantime, if four perfect tracks are all I get, I'll take them and say thank you.