Monday, January 2, 2012

Mýa's "K.I.S.S." Reinvents Modern R&B

Reinvention is a rarity in popular music today when it comes to the actual meaning of the word. There are exceptions and Mýa Harrison is an example. When major label interference caused the American release of her fourth album Liberation (2007) to collapse, Mýa took another route.

Japan favors R&B of any era and Mýa took it upon herself to sign to the indie imprint Manhattan Recordings based there. Additionally, she started her own label Planet 9 to work hand-in-hand with Manhattan Recordings. Her entrepreneurship, combined with a canny sense of artistic savvy, rendered Sugar & Spice (2008) her fifth album. Released in Japan, Mýa took her music directly to the audience she knew would receive it. Suffice to say the formula was successful enough to repeat it for her sixth album K.I.S.S. An acronym for "Keep It Sexy & Simple," Mýa distilled and retooled the dance/R&B principles that defined hits like "It's All About Me," "Case of the Ex," and "Fallen." Co-writing and collaborating alongside producers Chuck Harmony, Jeff Miyahari, Young Yonny, Carvin & Ivan, and Daisuke "D.I" Imai allowed Mýa to create one of the best popular R&B records of the last year. It's concept execution that elevates K.I.S.S. to classic status above any of her past works.

K.I.S.S. bursts with candy coated bangers and powdery ballads that are mainstream but mature. The title track, a tarty theme of empowerment, crosses back and forth between cheek and conviction. "Before U Say Goodbye" operates in the same rhythm of "K.I.S.S.," though it's keyed into higher emotional patterns.

There are funky experiments in "Alive," a bright, breezy J-Pop diamond, and the reggae-rock splash of "Rear View Mirror."
"Rear View Mirror" features long time friend Sean Paul sharing several toasts on top of Mýa's enthusiastic Janet Jackson flavored quips. The cut is spirited, genuine fun.

Mýa (further) echoes her R&B heroines on the "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"-era Whitney Houston nu-disco sheen of "Fabulous Life," the lead-off single. Retro without the copycat aftertaste, Mýa's charisma brings the aesthetic up-to-date. That modern flair undercuts the harder street sex on "Mess Up My Hair" and the computer blue swell in "Fugitive of Love" that directly follows.

K.I.S.S. Behind the Scenes

Mýa's voice up-to-this juncture was cute and capable, but now possesses more musculature on K.I.S.S. "Problem + Solution" and "Mr. Incredible" occupy reflection and sensuality without compromising either, a true mark of an accomplished vocalist. Even on the overblown adult contemporary bombast in "Love Comes, Love Goes" she is authentic, never losing sight of her goal in the vocal steering. The original version of K.I.S.S. appeared on April 20th, 2011 physically and digitally a week prior on the 13th. The physical sales were down from Sugar & Spice, managing #61 (Japan Billboard) and #72 (Japan Oricon) equally. On the independent and digital front it fared better at #8 (Japan Top Independent Albums & Singles Chart).

America and Canada received their first Mýa release since '03's Moodring on December 20th, 2011, albeit in digital form, with K.I.S.S. Removing "Runnin' Back," "Before U Say Goodbye," "Sorry," and "Alive" the U.S./Canadian edition featured other cuts in their place: "Take Him Out" (w/ Spice), "Earthquake" (w/ Trina), "Break Your Neck," "Can I," "It's My Birthday," and "Somebody Come Get This Bitch."

The U.S./Canadian tracks divide down the middle between quality and fluff. The fluff ("Earthquake") peers backwards to the narcissism that plagued Moodring (see "Why You Gotta Look So Good?") that Mýa (seemingly) left behind on Sugar & Spice and the initial pressing of K.I.S.S. 

The reworking of K.I.S.S.  is clearly a bid to make the album accessible to the American and Canadian markets, muddling the clarity Mýa has had since 2007. Instead of being bound to conventional U.S. chart constrictions, Ms. Harrison broke the rules. Exclusively courting the Japanese arena allowed Mýa to receive successes in a variety of ways. Despite the unnecessary U.S. repackaging, K.I.S.S. is Mýa's declarative statement of artistic and commercial freedom from the status quo. In R&B music today, it's an uncommon occurrence. Five stars out of five (for the Japanese pressing).-QH

[Editor's Note: The U.S./Canadian digital version of K.I.S.S. is available now on iTunes. The original, physical Japanese pressing of K.I.S.S. is available for order at CDJapan. The Yen to the American dollar is comparable and where I acquired mine. For more information on Mýa, visit Mýa Mýa Official.-QH]


CutieTJ said...

LOVE this album review! Absolutely one of the best I have ever read and I completely agree with your stance!

QH said...

@CutieTJ: I am glad that you enjoyed it. It is definitely a highlight in her discography, without question! Thank you for reading!-QH