R. Kelly - Love Letter

Posted December 16, 2010
Tags: R. Kelly,

R. Kelly is more than an artist, he’s a writer’s dream. Now that Michael has passed, he’s...

Love Letter Album Review

R. Kelly is more than an artist, he’s a writer’s dream. Now that Michael has passed, he’s the most fascinating man in music, an artist whose overwhelming talent has created a bubble around him in which the rules of normal society don’t apply. Most people would never dream of doing a multi-part, quasi-schizophrenic, hip-hopera featuring love octagons, midgets and a gay Reverend. Not R. Kelly. Most people would never be able to pull off both uplifting songs for Disney movies and tracks so sexually explicit they’re illegal in the state of Utah. Not R. Kelly. Never have we seen someone with such an incredible musical gift spend that gift on songs about yodeling during sex, and unraveling the enigma that is Robert Sylvester Kelly’s music was always half the fun.

Which is why Love Letter is the most boring, and in many ways the best, album of R. Kelly’s career. As stunned as I am to write this, Love Letter is a completely serious, completely earnest album that showcases Kelly’s extraordinary sense of harmony, melody and peerless voice. That’s it. No Sex Planet. No In My T-Shirt. No Love Zoo. (All actual R. Kelly song titles, by the way.) Instead, Love Letter is simply superbly crafted music that simultaneously serves as a history lesson in over three decades of soul, gospel and R&B. And just when I thought Kells could no longer surprise me.

We may as well start with the title track, Love Letter, a sparkling ballad sure to become an instant must play at weddings everywhere. Where Kelly often goes overboard, here he shows incredible restraint, keeping the production softly muted – all the better to let his voice take front stage. It’s the kind of song that even the toughest thugs will find themselves playing when trying to win the heart of that special someone. Crucially, Love Letter is the rule, not the exception. The album is packed with top shelf tunes, from the '50s soul styled When a Woman Loves, a song that proves Kelly has one of the best voices of all-time, not just of the last decade, to the old school duet Love Is, which brings in his newfound protégé K. Michelle for a lesson in on mic chemistry. I….I….I just really don’t have any jokes. This is simply beautiful music.

There are a few moments on Love Letter that for just a moment seem as if they could veer off into tantalizing territory, most notably the deeply layered Taxi Cab. Kelly has a flair for taking completely ordinary events, chopping vegetables in the kitchen for example, and turning them into sexually charged anthems. On Taxi Cab he does the exact opposite, taking a late night bump ‘n grind session in, you guessed it, a cab and turning it into an emotional meditation on the pleasure and pain of that brief encounter. Seriously. For a moment a title like Just Like That carries notes of promise, but instead we get a modern two-step classic, and in How Do I Tell Her? the protagonist isn’t leaving his woman because he’s knocked up his mistress, but because he knows the pain of putting her through a broken relationship will be worse than leaving her now. And while I Just Can’t Get Enough may be the album’s most openly scandalous, its sexual overtones are softened by lightly tapping percussion and Kelly’s airy vocals. If you were looking for a R. Kelly album you could listen to with your mom without flinching, you’ve found it.

If I sound a little disappointed, it’s because in a strange way I am. I love listening to R. Kelly because there’s a constant sense of impending danger – he could say anything, at any time – but his more, shall we say avant garde tendencies were always backed by undeniably great music. It was that juxtaposition that made him so fascinating. Love Letter is that music stripped of its taboo appeal. Instead of writing him off as a talented by unstable hitmaker, Love Letter forces us to consider Kelly as, simply put, the best male r&b voice or our generation. It’s a prospect that leaves me with far less jokes to write, but is also far more impressive. The man is, and I don’t use this word lightly, a genius. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to Feelin’ On Yo Booty.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted December 16, 2010
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