Keyshia Cole, "Woman to Woman" (Geffen)
Cole's fifth album is an R&B almanac of shaky romance, narratives with gnarled details, endlessly recombining data about suspicion, jealousy, pride, punishment, self-respect, the lead-up, the aftermath.
The happiness shows up in "Wonderland," a duet with Elijah Blake, and "Hey Sexy," a sly and generous song. But they seem like patch-ins from other records. "Woman to Woman" is for the anxious stat-crunchers of emotional sport, those marking up their box scores instead of watching the game.
The first half of the CD presents different aspects of what a woman thinks during the period between the first suspicion of malfeasance and the end of, say, the first month of living alone. In the title track she confronts the other woman, played by Ashanti; it seems that they both have a legitimate claim on the same guy. The song has no solution.
The breakups in these songs are never clean and heroic. These guys stay around, in the narrators' minds, in their lives, and the narrators aren't blameless, either. They're often changing their minds and pitting their real desires against what they allow themselves to say. Occasionally the inner self is more alluring than the outer one, as on "Next Move," a standoff between a woman and a man (played by the singer Robin Thicke).
Here's another question that might have no solution: Why does a real-talk album sound so ironed? I don't so much mean the production, with some feckless guest verses by Lil Wayne and Meek Mill. I mean Cole herself. Why is her big-voiced delivery so similar and balanced in nearly every song?
BEN RATLIFF, NEW YORK TIMES
Lana Del Rey, "Paradise" (Interscope)
"Paradise" gives fans a holiday bonus and haters a second chance at love -- or augmented hate. The eight new tracks are available as a package deal with her "Born to Die" release from January, and as a separate buy.
The singer mysteriously materialized about a year ago, a torchy seductress who became an enigmatic YouTube phenomenon with her video for "Video Games." She followed up with her album, projecting a highly sexualized, self-destructive persona who cast spells in surrealistic style. However, her carefully designed image was frayed by a disastrous appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and the revelation she's a well-off New Yorker who'd tried a music career using her real name, Lizzy Grant.
"Paradise" indicates that Del Rey's artistic vision hasn't changed. She's a perfect fit for a remake of "Blue Velvet," her low-slung and drawn-out delivery tethered to beat-prominent orchestration. Better still, opening track "Ride" is as intoxicating as anything she has done. Unfortunately, Del Rey has an absurd side that undermines her captivating aura and fuels a nagging sense that she's simply ridiculous.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE