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Lyfe Jennings: 'The Phoenix'

The Saga Continues

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Lyfe Jennings: 'The Phoenix'

Artwork © Sony/Columbia Music

Album number two for convict-turned-R&B-star Lyfe Jennings picks up right where his first album left off, with Lyfe continuing to sing about his post-prison experiences.
The flight that he takes the listener on is a bumpy one: it's filled with Lyfe's ups and downs, lefts and rights, wrong turns, bad decisions and pitfalls. The journey is an emotional, difficult one, but by the end of the trip, you'll know that the flight with The Phoenix was definitely worth taking.

"The Phoenix" Has Arisen

The Phoenix is not a sunny, happy R&B album. Just like real life, it's filled with pain, frustrations, bad choices and disappointment. But more importantly, the album's full of hope, love and optimism. And in the end, it's all these things - the good and bad alike - that help the album soar to greatness.
The songwriting is the album's strongest point. "Goodbye" is the break-up song of the year, while the song that follows it, "Let's Stay Together" (not a cover of the Al Green classic) just might be the make-up song of the year. Other standouts include "S.E.X.," which is a tale of a pubescent 17-year-old-girl and the men who try to seduce her; and "Ghetto Superman," about the hard-knock life of a brother who's been through hell but still managed to sell "almost as much dope as Uncle Sam."
Also brilliant is Lyfe's cover of 2Pac's "Keep Ya Head Up." Not only does he manage to sing lyrics that were originally meant to be rapped - no easy task - he manages to completely reinvent the song and make it his own, which is an even harder task considering what an enduring icon 'Pac is.
Several other songs - some gritty, some spiritual - round out the album, helping make The Phoenix one of the most personal albums of the modern R&B era.

Heavily Narrated

Cover © Sony/Columbia

It's hard picking flaws in a package of music so good, but here's three minor ones: one is that on the CD version of The Phoenix there's narration by Lyfe in between each song, explaining the meaning behind the song and what inspired him to write it.
Such a novel idea works for the first few listenings, but since an album this good is bound to get played over and over again, the impact of some of the between-song interludes diminishes with repeat playings. In fact, after just three or four full listenings, it actually gets to the point where the interludes detract from, instead of enhance, the overall listening experience.
Also, he makes the mistake of putting three of the worst rappers out there on one of his songs. But even the two remaining members of Three 6 Mafia, along with Project Pat, can't ruin the uplifting "Still Here."
The only other flaw - if you want to call it that - is that most of the songs are mid-tempo tracks - a little variety in song tempos would have been nice. But to be honest, that's just nitpicking. The bottom line is that years from now when R&B fans and critics are looking back, The Phoenix will probably be regarded as one of the best R&B albums of this decade. It's that good.

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