Monica‘s eight album, Code Red finds the singer in love and happy to proclaim it. At 35 years old she has lived, found success, dealt with failure, loved, lost love and now happily married with a baby girl she is inspired to share it all through the music. Still this Code Red review took a number of listens to really understand this project and try to determine exactly where Monica the artist is musically.
Code Red teams her once more with cousin and Atlanta based producer Polow Da Don, who executive produced this album as well as her last album New Life. The predecessor, New Life failed to be a commercial success, but it teamed Monica with folks who were very familiar with her sound like Jermaine Dupri, Bryan Michael Cox, Rico Love, Cainon Renard Lamb aka “Lambo” and Missy Elliott, who all seemed dedicated to matching perfectly with what works for Monica. The hope was the same for Code Red, but after several listens I’m not sure if that goal was achieved.
Noticeably missing this time on Code Red is producer, songwriter, Rico Love. Monica and Love made a great pair on 4 tracks on New Life, but he doesn’t appear at all this time–although he shared the bill on her Code Red Experience Tour. The aforementioned Polow produced just one track on New Life. On Code Red, Polow produces or co-produces six tracks. Timbaland is at the helm for 3 tracks. Between the two of them though, I don’t think there was a true direction for the project. Instead they just put together a bunch of the best songs she recorded and made it fit together. While that works for some artists,it isn’t the best formula for Monica, an established artist with a sound that fits her and a reputation for hits. The Code Red formula might even have been perfect for another artist Polow and Timbaland have worked with by the name of Keri Hilson.
Even the title, Code Red, seems out of place after a few listens. Maybe if the album arranged the ‘don’t mess with my man’ type tracks in the front end, and put the ‘I’m so in love with my man’ type tracks in the back half while putting everything else on a deluxe edition as bonus tracks, it would’ve worked out much smoother. In a world where downloading and streaming is king, I can understand why not much thought is put into arrangements these days, but I still expect it to be a priority on a veterans album, with veteran producers.
Those points aside, the music , sporadic as it is, is pretty good. A couple songs come off cheesy and overdone like the title track “Code Red” and “Call My Name,” however songs like “Love Just Ain’t Enough” and “Hustler’s Ambition,” which features Akon, make up for it with a touch of something never before seen from Monica. Still, it is on the ballads where Monica shines most. “I Know,” a dedication to her husband Shannon Brown may be the album’s highlight, while “Anchor” another love song that ends the album is sure to get you ALL in your feelings.
If you’re all out of love, and not ready for a ballad, unlike Ms. Monica, then “All Men Lie” and “Ocean of Tears” put you right in your bag.
The album’s single, “Just Right For Me,” which features Lil’ Wayne introduces a playfulness you should expect from this album. A song like “Suga” doesn’t stand out but it’s a fun uptempo song mid project if that’s your thing.
As a fan, I’m just happy to hear new music from Monica. Seeing her perform live recently is a reminder of how much she has contributed to R&B music as well as her level of talent, still difficult to match after all these years. But after a year of so much good music this album will be forgotten in the coming weeks because it’s not memorable. That’s disheartening.