Rihanna wasn’t old enough to drink when her first album came out in 2005. Beyoncé was a girl-group star long before she was dropping out-of-nowhere albums that shifted cultural focus for weeks at a time. Usher was barely out of his teens when My Way set him on a path to stardom. As some of our favorite R&B performers age in a very public manner, we see their lives move from teenage passion to adult wisdom, and we hear it in their music.

When K. Michelle burst onto the scene in 2013 (powered by the catchy soul sampling on her breakthrough hit, “V.S.O.P.”), she stood out for her maturity. Arriving fully formed, she cut a figure of a woman who had already made her mistakes and had no interest in making them again. That maturity informs her new album, More Issues Than Vogue, which crosses new musical ground while it reaches for Top 40 stardom.

Michelle is at her finest when she uses her experience to her advantage. “Ain’t You” and “Not a Little Bit” play like throwbacks to the mid-tempo heartache and lukewarm passion of mid-‘90s R&B luminaries like Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey. Few can top Michelle at the empowered kiss-off, as she tells a would-be suitor, “I ain’t trying to change you/ I got my own shit, I don’t want your money.” Her default position is as the woman in control who will not be played, as on “Mindful” and “Nightstand.”

The album’s most obvious single “Make the Bed,” is a transparent bid for Top 40, featuring R&B’s favorite interchangeable nobody, Jason Derulo. But even then, Michelle can’t help but breathe life into lukewarm material. Few others could deliver a lyric like, “Why do we make the bed when we know we’re going to mess it up again?” sound so lived-in and mournful. She takes what would be a generic come-on in lesser hands and turns it into a tragic compulsion.

While the unique point-of-view gives Michelle a compelling edge her experiments don’t always work. “Got ‘Em Like” borrows heavily from Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and turns its deep horns into something slow and overcooked. Michelle even attempts a country ballad with “If it Ain’t Love,” which earns points for honesty and effort, if not results. For all the personality in her singing, tracks like “These Men” are lyrical and melodic duds that sound like they could come from anyone. After repeated listens, one starts to worry that maybe beyond her street-level, take-no-shit posturing, Michelle doesn’t have any more to offer.

If there’s a clear future for Michelle, it’s not in the risks she takes on More Issues Than Vogue, but in her ability to make old routines sound new through sheer force of personality. She’s a grown up woman making a specific kind of grown up music. Where she might take that next is anybody’s guess.

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