December , 2010
Review by Ken Martin
Label: Jive Records
When Robert Sylvester Kelly made his solo debut in the early 1990's, he quickly became one of the most prominent male R&B figures in the entertainment industry. While releasing numerous controversial and sexualized tracks and videos such as "12 play", "Sex Me" and "Your Body's Calling", the rechristened R. Kelly was able to garner a solid fan base. Over the subsequent years, the Chicago native would test the stamina of his fans in ways they never dreamed. Despite his brushes with the law, R. Kelly still stands. A testament to his staying power is the recently released disc, Love Letters.
Over the past 18 years, R. Kelly built his reputation by creating songs that were both giddy and sexy at the same time. While many people laughed at him for his quirkiness; doing such things as comparing a woman's body to a car in a few of his songs, others admired his creative ingenuity with videos. His provocative, risqué approach to promoting singles from his albums were miles ahead of his competition. However, the singer / songwriter lost that edge in 2007 with the release of Double UpTo put it bluntly, Double Up brought out a very dark side to this brilliant artist. The songs, for lack of better words, were vulgar, profane and obscene. Kelly's previous track record duped consumers into pushing this recording to platinum status. Once they realized the album lacked the usual R. Kelly flair they'd grown to cherish, the public turned on him in droves. In many ways, his musical misfire, on all levels, set the stage for a comeback. The question is was the artist up to the challenge.
Kelly rose to the call with his latest effort, Love Letters. The title alone indicates Kelly's desire to bring his fans back into the fold, and that he heard them when they said he'd pushed the envelope too far his last time out. Kelly is coming back at a time when the word 'love' is sorely missing in the R&B world. This is a total R. Kelly production focusing on a theme he's well-versed to discuss.
Getting straight to the point, stating Love Letters to be simply good would be an overstatement. Proclaiming it to be bad would a gross exaggeration. The record actually meets somewhere in the middle...or so I thought. At first listen, the first 3 tracks sounded very Ne-Yo'ish, bland and lacked creativity. As the album title indicates, this record is supposed to project harmony and sensuality into the atmosphere as you listen to it. It didn't strike me that way. Upon a second listen, the lascivious touch of the master had subtly returned. By the third listen, there were four tracks that jumped out at me; two more that left me intrigued. With half the album's content passing the taste test, the others will follow in time. Since purchasing the disc, it hasn't left my cd player. The more I listen, the familiar core sounds of R. Kelly's R&B roots come through the speakers. Trey Songz, Omarion and Ne-Yo take note.
My personal favorites are "Not Feeling the Love", which holds similarities to a Michael Jackson styled track. "Radio Message" is a fun, but sensual shout out to "my baby". "When a Woman Loves" may very well become one Kelly's most famous anthems. "Love Is", without a doubt, is a perfectly executed duet with K. Michelle, the only featured artist on the album. Kelly also pays homage to one of his personal heroes, Michael Jackson, with the remake "You Are Not Alone". If R. Kelly's reputation was indeed slipping, he definitely rebuilt it with "Love Letters", and once again proven why he holds the title of "King of R&B".
At one point on the album, R. Kelly asks the audience "Can I bring love songs back to the radio?" Mr. Kelly, you just did.