Just as Dannii Minogue has often been seen merely as a poor man’s Kylie Minogue, Kelly Rowland has long been consigned to the considerable shadows cast by her former Destiny’s Child band-mate Beyoncé. And just like Dannii, the primetime exposure of ITV’s ratings juggernaught The X-Factor has given Kelly a brand new lease of life, bringing her to a whole new audience who have fallen in love with her stunning looks and all-American charm.
Transferring this popularity to her music career is the key challenge though, and the overall impression with her third studio album Here I Am is that this isn’t the record to do it. If Kelly’s The X-Factor appeal is built on her fun, upbeat personality then Here I Am feels like the polar opposite, a by-the-numbers rehashing of generic R&B tropes. Even the album’s title feels tired; a quick glance online reveals no less than nine other albums also called Here I Am.
For the majority of the album, Kelly follows a strict formula, layering every track with as many sighs and sensuously whispered vocals as she can. It swiftly becomes overbearing; the slick, sultry grooves of Motivation are undeniable, but in its effort to come across as utterly irresistible, it forgets to include any sense of a proper pop melody. As with so much of the album, it feels half-formed.
Songs like Lay it On Me and Feelin Me Right Now feel completely interchangeable – if it wasn’t for Kelly’s vocal, they could easily be cuts from Jason Derulo‘s latest record. All tinny piano lines and machine-gun beats, these songs couldn’t sound more current if they tried, but in doing so, they lose all sense of character.
The ’80s-flavoured synths and mandatory featured rap from Beyoncé’s Sweet Dreams co-writer Rico Love add some much needed verve to All Of The Night while the trippy ambient electronic backing of Keep It Between Us marks the track out as one of the record’s real highlights. The confident, feisty stomp of opener I’m Dat Chick does much to impress too. It’s these songs that show Kelly innovating, moving away from the mire of generic R&B – no surprise then that the album’s best track, Commander, reunites her with When Love Takes Over collaborator David Guetta.
The song remains one of the best dance-pop hits of last year, the sheer energy packed into the pulsating club rhythms and laser-sharp electronics is still genuinely staggering. Guetta is often accused of flooding the industry with seemingly identical dance tracks, but in Commander lies the reason why so many stars look to him for the chart smashes. When it comes to laying down a beat and unbeatable pop hook, Guetta is your man, and Commander easily ranks as one of his best creations. In an ideal world, Kelly would release an entire record of tracks as good as this, but instead Commander stands alone – the single true gem on Here I Am, and something of an odd one out.
It’s a shame then that the album’s second step into the club is such a predictable button-pushing exercise in aping the best-selling dance tracks of the year. Falling from the same Euro-inspired origins as Jennifer Lopez‘s On The Floor (the two tracks are practically identical), the listener would be forgiven for expecting Pitbull or some other rent-a-rapper to rear their head here.
Here I Am is the epitome of cheap and cheerful R&B, 40 minutes of precision-tuned pre-club glossiness – without a doubt perfectly serviceable. The only trouble of course is that these days, simply being serviceable just isn’t good enough.