Hoping to build on the momentum gained by her Mercury Music Prize-nominated breakthrough album, Who I Am, Beverley Knight's fourth effort abandons her soul credentials and goes straight for the commercial pop jugular. Working with an array of collaborators including Coldplay's Chris Martin and Robbie Williams' ex-songwriting partner Guy Chambers, Affirmation clearly has one eye on dominating the airwaves as much as her biggest hit, "Shoulda Woulda Coulda," did two years previously. Indeed, lead single "Come as You Are" should have no problems finding its way onto radio playlists, its swirling keyboards, psychedelic guitars, and almighty chorus creating a Lenny Kravitz-meets-Pink pop/rock stomper. The inclusion of a cover, "Keep This Fire Burning," originally a hit for Robyn in her native Sweden, also signifies Knight's intentions -- its exuberant catchy pop is a million miles away from her urban roots but much more likely to score her a number one hit. Best of all is the Chris Martin-penned "The First Time," which shows that his dalliance with R&B on Jamelia's "See It in a Boy's Eyes" was no fluke. A gorgeous, gospel-inspired ballad, it's far removed from the epic stadium rock his day job is usually associated with. Lyrically, Knight is as daring as ever. "No One Ever Loves in Vain" is a subtle piano-driven confessional about the loss of a friend, while the melancholic "Salvador" addresses AIDS, showing that Knight's commercial sensibilities haven't hampered her ability to tackle big issues. Inevitably, with the attempt to cover several bases, Affirmation may alienate fans of her more soulful first two records. The over-produced likes of "Tea and Sympathy" and "Till I See Ya" dilute Knight's impassioned vocals, while "Supasonic" is perhaps one Prince homage too far. But overall, there are enough gems on here to suggest that Affirmation may achieve the commercial success it so obviously craves.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien