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Syleena Johnson Could USe a Live Band on Vocally Sound 'Chapter 6: Couples Therapy'

Society always celebrates the records that top the Billboard 200 album chart. Back of The Billboards is a Music Times weekly segment that looks at the opposite end: the new record that finished closest to the back of the Billboard 200 for the previous week. We hope to give a fighting chance to the bands you haven't heard of.

Week of 11/07/2014
WHO: Syleena Johnson
WHAT: Chapter 6: Couples Therapy
SPOT: 197

It's easy to think, based strictly on the title of Chapter 6: Couples Therapy, that this will just be a less satisfying version of Babyface and Toni Morrison's excellent concept album Love, Marriage & Divorce from earlier in 2014. In truth, Johnson has been looking at the unhappy side of romance in R&B for the previous five "chapters" of her discography as well, to the point where it's not surprising that the most enjoyable tracks on this version are also the most depressing.

It's almost worth it to skip right to the end for tracks such as "Perfectly Worthless"—a satisfactory if less catchy play on the same themes presented in TLC's "Unpretty"—or "Cut My Hair," where the vocalist exits the album having escaped her oppressor, albeit at the cost of losing her locks. The album's actual conclusion is "Fool's Gold," although listeners should skip that track in exchange for the first version of the song, which features fellow R&B soulstress Leela James for an effective double whammy.

The spots where Therapy falls short is less a question of Johnson's voice and more about the staff she brought on for production. Although she bucks the trend of featuring rappers for guest verses, repetitive hip-hop beats fail to help the vocalist achieve this album's full potential. We imagine her better placed with a live band in the "quiet storm" style of Anita Baker.

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