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Chapter II (Murder Inc./Def Jam)

We were going to start by bitching about how three of the first five tracks on Ashanti's bloated, boring new LP are skits and intros, but then we realized that the filler was less annoying than the actual songs. "I don't want to be this woman the second time around," she whines on "Rain on Me," where the mistreated moll recounts all the ways her man neglects her. Again. Good God, Shany -- leave the dude already. And take your records with you.

Perhaps that's a harsh response to a woman whose voice is as warm and welcoming as a lover's embrace, and who has delivered some of the most memorable hooks to hit the airwaves in the past two years. But on Chapter II, as with her 2002 debut, Ashanti's vocals go from soothing to somnolent over the course of an hour. Pleasant but punchless sub-soul, such as "Breakup 2 Makeup" and "Sweet Baby," frequently derails this disc. And Ashanti is even worse when she breaks from the formula: With its shimmering synth and gauche beat, "I Found Lovin'" is supposed to be a throwback to the days of Cameo and Sheila E., but it sounds more like a B-side from the Jets. With another three intermissions and a needless outro, Chapter II feels like one prolonged interlude.

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