THE GRIEF and shock that gripped the R&B fraternity after Aaliyah Houghton’s death in a plane crash in 2001 was more than just sorrow for a young life cut short.
After two promising, if flawed, albums, it seemed that the singer who arrived age 14 amid a hail of plaudits and controversy — she and producer/mentor R. Kelly were rumoured to be a good deal more than just friends — was finally finding her stride. 2001’s aptly titled Aaliyah, was unmistakably her grown-up debut proper, revealing the iconic potential that R&B’s great and good had long claimed her to have. All the tributes concurred: her best was yet to come.
Be that as it may, it surely isn’t for a greatest hits collection to judge. Yet far from chronicling her career, I Care 4 U practically rewrites it; pushing what might have been and largely snubbing her early multi-platinum sales. Despite the rapture it received at the time, the cruising R. Kelly swingbeat of ‘Back And Forth’ and ‘At Your Best”s cosy soul are the only inclusions from 1994’s Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. And with no sign of the embryonic scatter-shot beats of Timbaland produced single ‘If Your Girl Only Knew’, 1996’s One In A Million is perilously underrepresented, with only the title track and cyber-disco cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’ making the cut. Though hardly classic albums, neither were as woeful as their showing here suggests.
Even Aaliyah only gets a bit part with ‘More Than A Woman’ and ‘Try Again’ affirming that the best place for her shimmering vocals was against Timbaland’s murky squelch, while ‘Rock The Boat’ and ‘We Need A Resolution’ are relegated to bonus track status.
Instead, the numbers are inexplicably made up with unreleased songs. Six of them. Even if they were future gems — and with more where drippy single ‘Miss You’ came from, they definitely aren’t — such a deluge of new material would be out of place on a Best Of. As it is, only the tripping ‘Don’t Know What To Tell Ya’ actually warrants inclusion over the rest of her back catalogue.
Sharper marketing minds would’ve spotted the lucrative potential for both a proper retrospective and a full rarities and b-sides collection. Frustratingly I Care 4 U‘s insistence on being both, makes it a bodged job and a less than ideal epitaph for of one of R&B’s most alluring voices.
© Dan Gennoe, 2003