The reigning champion of 2013!!!…
Alfred Soto: Over jittery sequencer lines and a spare beat that Todd Terry would have owned in 1995, a barely composed Katy B wonders why must the babygirl keep taunting her while Jessie Ware, from the heights of her empyrean self-regard, mumbles prayers and hopes. When the two co-sing the chorus, jealousy suddenly looks like anxiety of influence. With every move you make, Aaliyah, you’ve got’em transfixed, and because they’re alert to your tricks they collaborate on a track worthy of you — so confident they even stick unexpected stresses on the verse “this is green envy.” The last great song of 2012, the first great one of 2013.
Ian Mathers: It still feels like On a Mission was a little overlooked or undervalued, but either way Katy B’s put out a superb free EP; “Aaliyah,” as good as it is, isn’t even the best track (that’d be “Got Paid”). But it is very, very good, even if Jessie Ware is mostly just a subliminal presence and the titular reference is less to the real and beloved singer and more to some sort of modern-day club Jolene (which to be fair, the singer would probably get a kick out of).
Ramzi Awn: Clean as Katy B with her signature meditative repetition in check, “Aaliyah” does not disappoint, its celestial melodies wrapping around its lyrics like ivy. Perfectly structured, it is tracks like these that make so many artists sound like they’re trying way too hard. Could have gone on for another 7 minutes.
Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: A.K.A. The English White Girl/RinseFM Bass Vocal Summit. At first I thought this was simply pleasant, a bleepy hitch to the back of the current “Baby Girl Saved My Life” bandwagon. But Katy and Jessie just don’t do instant gratification, with both their oeuvres sticking to a slow burn. “Aaliyah” continues this approach, quietly putting up lodging in your brain. Alongside the MJ Cole-ish drum programming and bubbly the-night-has-just-begun keys, the two vocalists complete each other’s sentences, like two friends rolling their eyes at their romantic competition. Perhaps the title isn’t to be taken to heart – it’s a cheeky reference to a girl who seems too good to be true. After all, Aaliyah does mean “sublime.”
Iain Mew: Katy B and Jessie Ware dance politely around each other. I get a sense of the latter being the more dominant because the song is unengaging in exactly the same way as I found her “Running,” falling just the wrong side of the line between poised and not going anywhere.
Brad Shoup: It appears to be a rebuke toward DJs who prefer their divas secondhand. Katy B’s got her own here, but her strengths are not Aaliyah’s — both are on the aqua end of the spectrum, but unlike her incarnate idol, Katy’s never going to conjure the same mysteries. You can spot her skill in that sighing during the chorus: she’s a cracking freestyle singer, spreading that widescreen darkness.
Alex Ostroff: The title track off Katy B’s new Danger EP might be the better song qua song, but that doesn’t make “Aaliyah” any less of a marvel. Katy’s voice emerges strong from the haze of the club, as assertive as anything off On a Mission, aware of the potential seduction underway, but determined to stand firm. The beat pulls back for Jessie’s verse, and adds some decorative blips to push the track forward while she wistfully sighs, resigned but not too proud to beg. Their wordless sighs swirl around each other throughout the chorus, and by the bridge, Katy and Jessie trade lines effortlessly, dissolving into a single girl, desperately singing in harmony with herself, wondering who has stolen the DJ, and her heart.
Will Adams: Every now and then you encounter someone who, whether through perfectly chiseled features, winning personality, or – God forbid – a combination of the two, mesmerizes everyone in his or her path except you. “Aaliyah” is one of those people, luring away both Katy B’s and Jessie Ware’s man with her enchanting moves. The lush house beats are grooving enough to keep dancing on your own, but the stars here are Katy’s and Jessie’s vocals. They seethe instead of sulk, glaring at Aaliyah through narrowed eyes, preparing to attack.
Jer Fairall: The first romantic melodrama since Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea that I can think of to involve so famous a ghost, here with the added perversity of making it’s namesake the covetous other woman. Compelling for the sheer unorthodoxy of the tribute, of course, though not without reverence; surely it speaks volumes of anyone’s legacy that they can transfix someone so thoroughly from beyond the grave. The vocalists are reserved enough to suggest an appropriately ghostly trance, though only Ware thinks to add an additional soulful dimension of vulnerability to her performance, and the music — 90’s house that’s disappointingly monotonous where it needs to be eerily hypnotic — wisely, even cheekily, responds with tiny variations in the limited palette when it reaches her verse.
Katherine St Asaph: What’s the difference between Drake turning Aaliyah into a muse and Katy B turning her into a homewrecker? Drake being a critical punchline and Katy being a critical darling, yes, but that’s not a valid reason. Things get a little less uncomfortable if you pretend it’s just some other woman named Aaliyah, which is fairly clearly bullshit but at least explains how she’s singing along. It’s a shame, too, because the track is fantastic: “Lights On” with more wattage and Geeneus genius. Katy sounds as awed as scared, Jessie’s close-miked and quavery, like she’s singing through tears; between them you’ve got the full spectrum of emotion and, once their voices switch to harmonies and sine-wave trails, sound. I just wish I had a good answer to the above.
Edward Okulicz: A club-banger “Jolene” is a good idea, but Katy B doesn’t do unchained emotion — understated cool is more her metier. This makes it sound like she doesn’t so much care where her man goes.
Jonathan Bogart: Cards on the table: Katy B was one of my favorite things about 2011, and Jessie Ware was my no-qualifications favorite thing about 2012. So this collaboration ought to have me writhing on the ground in ecstasy. That it falls short of that is no strike against the track itself, which prefers to swirl in its own luxurious atmosphere than to swing for the pop-bliss fences. That, and I can’t quite get over the clumsiness of dummy lyric “this is green envy” jammed into the wrong meter.