Blackground/Virgin – 2001 - 62 minutes

Aaliyah is R'n'B's wunderkind, recording her first album (and marrying R Kelly) at 15, starring opposite Jet Li in 'Romeo Must Die' at 20 and still finding time to pop up as a guest on releases by Missy Elliot and Timbaland & Magoo. Now she continues her quest for global media domination with an upcoming role in 'Matrix 3' and the release of her self-titled third album.

R'n'B is a tough genre to do well, but Aaliyah never resorts to the lowest common denominator. She may not be the most naturally talented singer in the business, but her stylish delivery lifts her a notch above her rivals. Even 'I Can Be', the obligatory stab at rock, is restrained enough to be less embarrassing than usual.

Timbaland mans the mixing desk on four songs. To call him is a producer is like calling Tiger Woods a golfer. He has already reinvented R'n'B and his contribution to this album confirms his undisputed crown as king of the beats – suffice to say that a time-capsule from the turn of the millennium would contain a Timbaland production.

'We Need A Resolution' is a highlight - a heartfelt tale of domestic stress over backward loops, deranged arpeggios and a rare Timbaland appearance on the microphone. The Daft Punk-style 1980s pomp of 'More Than A Woman' and the sheer shimmering beauty of 'I Care 4 U' sees Aaliyah raise her vocal game to match the brilliance of the backing tracks.

'Aaliyah' is the smoothest and most seductive R'n'B album of the year, with lyrics that are appealingly upfront and assertive. Though a little over-long, it evades the naff samples trap that most other records in the genre find so hard to avoid. Classy stuff.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: We need a resolution - Loose rap - Rock da boat - More than a woman - Never no more - I care 4 u - Extra smooth - Read between the lines - U got nerve - I refuse - It's whatever - I can be - Those were the days - What If - Try Again