R. Kelly - Untitled (2009)

R. Kelly
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The self-proclaimed "R" in R&B formally had a spiritual connection with Marvin Gaye. Ironically, even Gaye, the R&B superstar blessed with a wealth of talent, also wrestled with his share of demons - fought back and forth with the paranormal and earthly realms. After his star luster shriveled following an exhaustive court trial and child molestation accusations, Robert Kelly turned to his sexy macho alter-ego just when mainstream R&B started to wean itself from classy, sophisticated romance and focus mostly on rated-R sex sessions. Untitled continues his wild, cross-country ambitions into uncensored, raw material.

The self-proclaimed "R" in R&B formally had a spiritual connection with Marvin Gaye. Ironically, even Gaye, the R&B superstar blessed with a wealth of talent, also wrestled with his share of demons - fought back and forth with the paranormal and earthly realms. After his star luster shriveled following an exhaustive court trial and child molestation accusations, Robert Kelly turned to his sexy macho alter-ego just when mainstream R&B started to wean itself from classy, sophisticated romance and focus mostly on rated-R sex sessions. Untitled continues his wild, cross-country ambitions into uncensored, raw material.

While his popular, freaky hits "Bump and Grind," "Your Body's Callin'" and"Sex Me" bore some form of respectable credibility in pop culture, Untitled's playlist leaves nothing to the imagination. "Like I Do" swells like a promising Ne-Yo showcase, but hampers on arrogant one-liners than romantic gestures for his love interest. "Bangin' the Headboard" feels like an illegitimate reprise of Trey Songz' "Neighbors Know My Name" and plays more with Kelly's superego. On one of the better offerings, "Whole Lotta Kisses," Kelly finds the right Quiet Storm groove to sweet talk his listeners into a sexy, passionate evening. He tries to stay on this tamed R&B course before ultimately veering into some bold, demanding ad-libs ("Open up your legs girl"). "Be My #2" uses a fun, retro ‘70s disco groove, identical to Lorraine Johnson's "Feed the Flame." It's definitely cool and nostalgic, a sweet escapade to the Studio 54 days, but the song is full of adulterous imagery and an unforgivable profane finale ("...to all you hatin' motherf***ers").

To make matters worse, the Dirty-South rap frenzy of "Supaman High," the digitally-infused "Text Me" and the uncomfortable knock-ya-up ballad "Pregnant" all sound like a grown-man's plea to stay current and interesting to younger generations. The latter, using a strategy from Quincy Jones's " Secret Garden ," unites Kelly with modern R&B prophets Tyrese, The-Dream and even Robin Thicke. The union would have been glorious if it didn't sound like an unprotected sex orgy.

Kelly is a brilliant talent lost on his road to redemption, miles away from his former glory. He wants to stay true to his thuggish ways, but the R&B game is ever-changing and apparently not selling like it used to, even the mostly uncensored freaky stuff. As proof, note that Kelly hasn't had a #1 pop or R&B hit since 2003 with "Step in the Name of Love." With a broiled reputation for spitting out freaky experiments-on wax and off, Kelly had best try to conjure up another inspirational Whitney Houston "I Look to You" type jam,  another kiss-up to the wishing well of pop. If only Kelly would learn that the world will always, always embrace an "I Need an Angel" and "I Believe I can Fly" before they dare touch something like "Bangin' the Headboard." Not recommended.

By J. Matthew Cobb

 
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