R. Kelly: Love Letter
Eleventh set finds the Pied Piper of R&B assembling a playlist of Marvin Gaye soul and retro-sounding R&B
R. Kelly’s disastrous Untitled LP didn’t stand much of a chance in urban R&B; piling on the freaky double entendres and packing more heat than his alleged porn tape. The best to get back in the rat race of R&B without looking so much like a comeback kid was to deliberately return to its roots. Kelly lays out a tribute to vintage Marvin Gaye and Chicago soul, hence the Stevie Wonder/Sam Cooke LP cover, on his eleventh studio album Love Letter. It’s sweet, even a joy to the ear for those who no longer remembers ma-and-pa’s records but yearn to own a piece of nostalgia in their CD changers. He suits up as the chivalrous gentleman on the song’s dreamy title track and “Just Can’t Get Enough,” while playing with his “Step In the Name of Love” shuffle sound. But his deep infatuations with vinyl classics is where Kelz runs into murky waters.
On “Music Must Be a Lady,” he rips off Marvin Gaye’s “Just to Keep You Satisfied” like an uncredited sample. He tries to create a Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell moment with guest vocalist K. Michele on “Love Is.” He even looses his grip on strong lyrics and opts for strong gospel belting on “When A Woman Loves;” which grievously mixing Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” in Chicago’s “Colour My World” and playing with the doo-wop struts of the Penguins’ “Earth Angel” and Jackie Wilson’s “To Be Loved.” The half-baked introduction and its keyboard strings even quench some of the flame out of the burning fire.
Despite the derivative trappings of Love Letter, Kelly doesn’t drown in his own tears. Songs like “How Do I Tell Her” and “Number One Hit” are positive footnotes in his stride towards memorable R&B. Obviously, he’s getting too old for his R-rated, Pied Piper role but it’s quite surprising to hear Kelly deserting everything from his 12 Play era – where Isley-inspired gems like “Your Body’s Callin'” and “It Seems Like You’re Ready” reigned – on this set. Although easily calculated, Love Letter is a cautious step in the right direction. Still, one’s curiosity wonders if the freaky Kelz has been legitimately laid to rest in exchange for safe nostalgia.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 14 December 2010
- Label: Jive
- Producers: R. Kelly
- Spin This: ”Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Love Letter,” “Number One Hit”