The wave of alternative R&B that swept over the charts a few years ago always had a slippery definition at the best of times, but Banks, with her dark beats and emotional rawness, seemed determined to embody the trend and make it her own.
Her debut album Goddess was stylistically beautiful, although her second outing did not quite reproduce the magic, attempting to innovate but losing some of her spark in the process. III (★★½) takes a different approach again, changing gears to bring in more of a pop sensibility.
Right off the bat, “Till Now” fails to bring the energy it promises, with overdone autotune that feels almost like a throwback to the mid-2000s, and crunchy, thumping synths that arrive too late to add much texture to the song. As an opening track, it does not bode well for the rest of the album.
“Gimme” is more catchy and stylistically more representative of her talent, but lays claim to more substance than it deserves. Banks wants her listener to buy the mysterious, dangerous image she is laying claim to, but unfortunately, declaring yourself “that bitch” does not make it so.
The most frustrating part of III is that it could so easily have gone in another direction. “Alaska” and “Swazall” are genuinely fascinating and intriguing, and like the best Banks tracks, they are full of enough lyrical and musical complexity to reward repeat listens. The makings of a great album are buried in between songs that, by comparison, might have been better off on the cutting room floor.
As is often the case on a third album, Banks understandably wants to show us that she has grown into her voice and expanded her horizons. But she also wants to rack up streams, and she seems to think she has to produce her voice into oblivion in order to do that. This time, those goals are at odds with one another and III suffers for it.
III can be purchased on Amazon.com and iTunes, and is available on most major streaming services.
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