Back with Motown, India.Arie is rejuvenated for her fifth album, which follows a lengthy hiatus. A series of mishaps, combined with some dissatisfaction regarding the sound of her recordings, prompted the break. She even contemplated leaving the industry. However, only the most attentive listeners will hear a considerable difference between SongVersation and the Testimony albums.
India.Arie’s newest album, Songsversation, shows an artist who, for better or for worse, remains defined by the second song from her first album. That song, entitled “Video”, shows Arie’s power and also the potential downside of her artistic approach. It’s a feel-good song about how she can be comfortable with her body: “When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me / Every freckle on my face is where it’s supposed to be / ...I learned to love myself unconditionally / Because I am a queen.” The words ride a breezy groove, but Arie walks a narrow line between encouraging empowerment and sounding like a teacher in health class.
Timing can be treacherous. Daft Punk decided to trade samples and programming for live musicians, revisiting vintage funk styles in the studio, and released its album “Random Access Memories” just weeks before Pretty Lights revealed a similar metamorphosis on its new album, “A Color Map of the Sun” (Pretty Lights Music). Derek Vincent Smith, the D.J.-producer from Denver who records as Pretty Lights, has worked his way up the electronic dance music circuit with tracks steeped in the midtempo stomp and distorted undertow of hip-hop; he releases all of his music for free download from his Web site, though for “A Color Map of the Sun,” he’s also selling CDs and LPs.
India.Arie’s musical conversation about the affirmation of the soul continues with “SongVersation,” her first record in four years. More than a decade after her debut, Arie’s music and message have become overly familiar while her broadly brushed lyrics frequently sound too transparent. There’s still beauty in her simplicity, though. When the singer-songwriter gets things right on “This Love” or the understated “Life I Know,” she offers an antidote to the cynical and nihilistic tendencies often found in pop music today.