Full disclosure: I’m one of the world’s biggest fans of Fantasia Barrino. Play me YouTube footage of her singing “I Believe” on the American Idol season 3 performance finale, and I’m guaranteed to cry like it’s the final scene of Six Feet Under. Fire up that rendition of “Lady Marmalade” she delivered at a Patti LaBelle tribute concert, and I assure you I’ll throw a minimum of one hand in the air (then wave it ’round like I’m totally square). But even I have to admit the shortcomings of some of ‘Tasia’s post-Idol output. For every electrifying romp like “Hood Boy,” there’ve been meandering midtempo jams with about as much flavor and distinctiveness as corn-starch thickener in a mass-market bisque. For every “uh-huh this girl knows how to murder it” ballad like “Free Yourself,” there’ve been melody-free compositions that left our Idol heroine to wail to no avail.
But “Even Angels,” a brand new track from Fantasia’s upcoming third studio album that she’ll perform tomorrow on Oprah, finds the current VH1 reality star aiming directly for a date with the pop charts, which is a distinct change from the grittier R&B focus of her previous records. (Hat tip to mjsbigblog for alerting me to its availability.) The unabashedly sentimental ode to recalibrating one’s inner compass has a lovely, well-defined melody that provides a border for a singer with a penchant for hollerating way outside the lines (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This unexpected vocal restraint, combined with a lilting piano line and lyrics that follow the singer pondering how to go it alone on the most ordinary of days, build slowly and almost imperceptibly. Then, at the 3:00 mark, “Even Angels,” written by Heather Bright and produced by The Stereotypes, reaches a thunderous, echoing climax — “even angels, even angels learn to fly…fly…fly…fly” — that could manipulate even Ryan Tedder into a full-bodied sway, and which plays out like a mashup of Beyoncé’s recent Grammy winner “Halo” and Bette Midler’s slice of classic sap “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Sure, it’s the kind of song you’d expect to hear a future Carrie Underwood or Jordin Sparks singing at the Kodak in May (while trying to avoid getting confetti in her mouth), and yet, ‘Tasia upgrades lines like “First step, take a deep breath/ You don’t need a reason why” with a voice that packs more emotion into a couple of bars than most Auto-Tuned pop tarts deliver on an entire album. It’s good to have Ms. Barrino back with some new music; here’s hoping radio agrees. (And here’s also hoping that just because “Even Angels” is pretty and poppy, that Fantasia doesn’t deny us some of her beautifully ugly funk on the forthcoming CD.)
What do you think of “Even Angels”? If RCA makes this the lead single, could you envision it having an impact on the Hot 100? Sound off in the comments below, but before you do, a three-step plan: Follow EW’s Music Mix blog on Twitter @EWMusicMix; then follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak; and then, after the jump, check out my recent five-part interview with Fantasia (covering everything from her VH1 show to her Gospel roots to her desire to rock).