A Different Me is an apt title for Cole's latest effort, as it certainly approaches the singer's talent from a different perspective. While the subject matter is more or less the same as what was heard on Cole's previous two albums, the production is much more diverse. Cole opens the disc by saying "I'd like to introduce a sexier side of me," and that's an appropriate description of the rest of the proceedings. The aggressive R&B production of The Way it Is and Just Like You is traded in for a sound that is unmistakably more pop influenced; think more Heaven Sent, and less I Should've Cheated. That transition works nicely throughout a majority of the mostly mid-tempo album, but leaves Cole sounding noticeably out of her element during the ballads.
At its best the album is an inviting collection of shimmering production and satisfying hooks, as evident during the two-step of Erotica. At its worse it's an unconvincing attempt at emoting emotional and physical vulnerability, like the vocally awkward Brand New. Fortunately the album is heavy on the former, and light on the latter.
The Runners produced Please Don't Stop is as fast as the tempo gets on A Different Me, which instantly makes the track standout as one of the album's most appealing. Cole rides the disco-lite dance floor production perfectly, even delivering a Donna Summer-eque breakdown that's skating-rink ready. You Complete Me is another album standout, reminiscent of Justin Timberlake's Until the End of Time in its drum-backed arrangements and soaring vocals. However, it's Cole's duet with fellow R&B star Monica that introduces an interesting tension to the album. One on hand, Trust is easily the best song of the collection. On the other hand, Monica owns Keyshia on her own shit. Trust is Monica's song without question, from vocals to overall presence; and though Keyshia rides quite nicely next to her, the song inevitably leaves you wanting more from the So Gone singer.
Keyshia's new sound doesn't function quite as well during other parts of the album. Make Me Over isn't the sort of song that Cole should ever record. It's not that the jazzy production and frivolous lyrics are bad, but they're certainly not appropriate for Keyshia. Lyrics like "Doll me up, make me look pretty," just don't complement her image, or cater to what makes her appealing to audiences. And while Cole's Sex and the City meets New Jack City vibe is well-balanced on other tracks, Make Me Over would be better suited for an artist like Jennifer Hudson.
All in all, A Different Me isn't quite the evolution that Cole's career is in sore need of, but the album is a solid addition to her catalogue. Still, Keyshia needs a timeless record, like My
Life or Janet, if she ever hopes to reach superstar status.