Kelis is back. And into the bargain, she’s bossy. If that wasn’t enough, she’s ‘the bitch you love to hate’. Except we all know she’s not really a bitch, and you’d need the thudding insensitivity of an international arms dealer to hate her. ‘Cause everybody loves Kelis. Right?
But does anyone love her enough to risk a terminal case of haemorrhoids by sitting through 75 minutes plus of Kelis Was Here? And really, what are the chances of said album frothing near the high-water mark of 2003’s Tasty? Well, pretty high, thanks for asking
The 18-track Kelis Was Here has something of the same game plan of Tasty, the album that put Kelis back amongst the best-sellers after the commercial nose-dive of 2001’s Wonderland.
Lead-off single Bossy has more than a smidgen of Milkshake’s soft-porn boys-in-the-yard antics, and the record has more producers than a HBO drama. The good nooze is, with the odd predictable exception, that the production values are as firmly in situ as those of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under.
Though the likes of Bossy, Fuck Them Bitches and I Don’t Think So all cast Kelis Rogers as attitudinal as befits a Mrs. Nas, the abyss-stepping ditching of long-term Star Trak partners shows genuine gumption. But the lessons of Williams and Hugo haven’t gone unnoticed.
The mixed bag of Raphael Saadiq, Swizz Beatz, and Linda Perry (to name just three) all centre the robo-like passion-at-one-remove Kelis voice in a pop-glossary of bubblegum beats, Mantronix-synths, low-key gospel, and the odd cartoon axe-riffing. At all points, there is a sense of Prince-like knowingness, of pop-play and meaning being where you find it.
Repeated plays reveal the subtle lights behind the braggy bushels of Blindfold Me and Ahhh Shit. Living Proof is all heavy-lidded anguish but Trilogy and Weekend are real Kelis specialities, spacegirl statements of deferred desire with a low heat of finely-drawn soundtracking acknowledging imminent consummation.
That Weekend is home-grown from the stable of playskool eroticism that is Black Eyed Peas‘ will.i.am trademark is even more remarkable, though said lower-case dude is on more familiar clodhopping form on the routine smut of What’s That Right There. It could be worse. Wyclef Jean might have been involved.
Clinker-spotters will also want to avoid Spragga‘s dance-hall dull ‘toasting’ on the damp squib Fire. But despite certain reports to the contrary, Kelis Was Here is more filler-free than any 18-track album deserves to be.
One left-leaning UK broadsheet went so far as to call the album ‘bloated’, though in comparison to that unnamed organ’s forest-sapping Saturday supplements, Kelis Was Here has the economy of chip-shop diesel fuel.
It’ll be a long time before female black singers will ever be allowed to move beyond the R&B / Hip-Hop diva clich�, but though the punchy sensuality of those genres are clear and present through Cee-Lo‘s devotional Little Star, the lament of Goodbyes, and the breathy flamenco of Have A Nice Day, Kelis is just too comfortable with versatility to do anything but freestyle.
As far as Kelis Was Here is concerned, the results are not quite Tasty, but they’re pretty damn close. For lovers of pop nous and adventure, that should be close enough.