Release Date: Apr 22, 2014
Record label: Ninja Tune
Genre(s): R&B, Soul, Funk
Effortlessly cooler than Beyoncé, amiably warmer than Gaga, and infinitely more versatile than Madonna herself, Kelis is the crème de la crème of pop stars. Fluently gliding through angry ball-breaking rhythm‘n’bruise, saucy milkshakin’ glitch-pop, to big-beat Euro house, Kelis acts like an upmarket butcher who moonlights as a pâtissier and does a bit of viniculture on the side. Food is Kelis’ tribute to, well, food.
Flesh Tone, Kelis' lone release through Interscope, brought about a pair of Top Five club hits. The creatively restless singer and songwriter nonetheless quickly moved on to working on her sixth album with a handful of U.K. garage and dubstep producers, including Skream, whose 2013 "Copy Cat" featured one of her most clever (and slightly creepy) turns.
Food is awesome. Poutine, macaroni and cheese, crab sandwiches with provolone cheese drizzled on top – does it even need to be said, or can we all agree that food is just fantastic? American electronic R&B/soul artist Kelis’ ode to the great pastime of consumption may seem gimmicky upon first glance, but take no mind, Food is a powerful release with a heart, soul and mind that rival any neo-soul release of the past decade. The concept of food takes on so many meanings – sure, there are the topical flavors of cobbler, fish, and biscuits ‘n’ gravy, to name straight off the track listing – but the theme of Food would better be described through “consumption”.
Sir Issac Newton’s first law of motion succinctly says that an object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an external force. Since the public announcement of her divorce from rapper Nas, Pop-Soul provocateur Kelis has too been an object in motion. However, her activity has involved spiraling up and down in a strange, charmed and sometimes highly unfortunate life defined by a plethora of circumstances.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Kelis' career has been a study in left turns, it seems like every album she released has drastically differed from its precursors. Like a lot of R&B-ish female singers who defy the label of pure "pop" and actually try to experiment with form and genre, Kelis has struggled with commercial success. On Food, her sixth full-length, it feels like she finally let go of the concept of "success" and just cooked up something she wanted to make.
Over the course of her extensive 15 year recording career, Kelis has tried on more musical styles than there are sauces in the condiments aisle, and yet it’s still very easy to have a selective memory. She is known for bringing all the boys to the yard with the cheeky provocation of ‘Milkshake’, the swaggering riffery of ‘Trick Me’, and her chart-topping collaborations with André 3000, Calvin Harris and N. E.
Food is musically delicious, sonically nutritious. The woman known as Kelis can rightly be termed a veteran in this game, with her debut album, Kaleidoscope appearing way back in 1999. She's typically been hard to define musically, and Food further confuses the issue with a live band-oriented edge as helmed by producer Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio fame.
About six years ago, Kelis Rogers – one of the more eccentric and compelling R&B singers out there – retrained as a saucier at the just-so Cordon Bleu academy. Kelis's culinary fetish had been foreshadowed for years. One of her standout albums was called Tasty; one of its biggest hits was Milkshake. At the time, Kelis's motivation in changing career seemed to be a protracted label dispute.
Kelis' frequent reinvention has never been one that guided a colossal turn in culture: for 15 years she's shapeshifted through astral hip-hop, digitised reggae and provocative playground pop with little notable desire for megastar status (brushing aside 2010's irksome EDM experiment). So it's unsurprising that while the rest of the pop scene is recreating the future R&B she mastered on debut Kaleidoscope, Kelis instead retreats to a classic sound. With Dave Sitek on board – a producer who's guiltier of the "stick a horn on it" method than Mark Ronson, her sixth fuses soul samples and cooking to create a mellifluous listen.
Kelis swaps the EDM rhythms from 2010’s Flesh Tone for a more soulful vibe on Food. It’s a veritable smorgasbord: The funky “Jerk Ribs” and “Cobbler” are paired with the intensely potent “Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy” and rock-infused “Fish Fry.” All culinary references aside, her sixth studio album houses a plethora of sounds that clearly displays the artist’s vocal range. Whether making us dance or encouraging us to think, Kelis is always out to fatten us up with her musical menu.
Understanding Kelis hasn’t always been this easy. Her expansive discography has carved out many diverse alter egos, from the sugarcoated pop sensation of Tasty to the club queen of Flesh Tone. The ambition behind it all is impressive, but it has kept fans from pinning down an exact understanding of her identity. With Food, she gives her guests a taste of who she is as a cook, musician, and mother, as she shares her wisdom on the art of satisfaction.
Kelis has always been far ahead of the R&B pack. The New York-born singer was working with The Neptunes back in 1998 when they were up-and-coming producers, rather than ubiquitous hitmakers, and was migrating towards Euro house in 2010 when such influences were still frowned upon among the urban elite. All of which made her recent single ‘Jerk Ribs’ something of a surprise, evoking as it did the bump and shuffle of ’60s soul rather than the bleeding-edge sound of the future.
“I know I don’t look it, but I can really cook,” Kelis Rogers sings on “Floyd,” a breathy old-school slow jam on her new album. As advertised, the song really does cook, placing her throaty vocals on a bed of Philly soul strings and horns. But Kelis means “cook” very literally, too. Over the past decade, she has trained as a saucier, written her own cookbook, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu, and landed a cooking show called Saucy & Sweet on the Cooking Channel.
One of these days there'll be the definitive retrospective written about how Kelis somehow managed both a solid run of great songs and an impenetrable run of rotten luck. We're 15 years out from the cult-hit success of Kaleidoscope and “Caught Out There", more than 10 years since “Milkshake” hit #3 on the Hot 100, and four years since the ahead-of-the-curve electro/house-leaning Flesh Tone left her with a one-and-done Interscope run that remains one of pop's lingering “how did this get overlooked?” mysteries. Every few years it seems like she's had to find a new voice and a new audience to go with it.
It was hard not to be excited upon hearing that Kelis would release Food, her first album in four years, on a label like Ninja Tune. Both are prone to throwing fantastic curveballs. Kelis might have made a name for herself with chart-smashing R&B on majors like Virgin, but her hits were always backed by pretty strange beats, and they've proven to have a much longer shelf-life than most.
Art-pop pioneer Kelis has never been more soulful or more intimate than she is on her sixth album. The singer steps out of the EDM rocket she rode on her last LP, 2010's Flesh Tone, in favor of more earthly pleasures – equating food with sex in a way that would make George Costanza drool. Kelis pines for "that tall drink of water" over a Link Wray rumble and hopes you can make it to "Breakfast" on a passionate track that sounds like Terence Trent D'Arby auditioning for indie powerhouse 4AD.
Stylistically, Kelis's music has been thrillingly all over the map, from skeletal Neptunes neo-soul to hiccupping club jams to woozy hip-hop. Thematically, though, she's consistently been in our faces, making a name for herself with songs-as-declarations—that she's bossy, that she had Ol' Dirty Bastard's money, that she brings all the boys to the yard. Which makes the artist's latest reinvention on Food all the more jarring.
On the heels of a food-truck promotion at SXSW, Kelis gives us an album called Food, in which half of the songs are named for edibles. No surprise, really, coming from an R&B singer who trained as a saucier at Le Cordon Bleu. This is not the Kelis who sang about her milkshake, nor is Food similar to the electro-dance turn of 2010's Flesh Tone. In 2014, she's nurturing herself - inspired by the records she grew up listening to.
Music may be the food of love for Shakespeare, but for Kelis, food is the love of music. Or at least that’s what her sixth album might persuade you into believing, with its song titles that read like the menu from some po-mo restaurant and lyrics that tenderly quote her storied musical biography. But there’s a small hitch in its plans to mingle gustation and audition into one celebratory dish, and it’s that it represents the weakest music of her career, a recurrently insipid mélange of MOR pop, MOR R&B, and MOR AOR that’s been sieved of pretty much every flavor that installed the New Yorker as a harbinger for so many of the names (e.g., Rihanna, Lady Gaga) who today stand at the intersection between electro, dance, R&B, and pop.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS Earlier last month, Kelis Rogers opened her debut SXSW gig with a rendition of “Feeling Good.” Augmented with a bright horn section and a pair of background singers, her take was a stirring, if minor, facsimile of the classic. This is no slight to Kelis as a live performer, nor to her instrument, a deep and sultry mezzo. “Feeling Good” belongs to one artist, and since the 1965 album I Put a Spell on You, that artist has been Nina Simone.
Kelis reverses field from 2010’s EDM-influenced “Flesh Tone” with this fine, sensual R&B-based album, produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek. The singer-songwriter, who is a trained chef and gave us the delirious, sex-infused “Milkshake,” understands the intimate connection between food and desire: Our lives are often defined by our appetites. Many tracks on “Food” evoke throwback soul (“Jerk Ribs,” “Breakfast”), but there are none of the contrived conventions many other acts have used with this approach.
“If music be the food of love,” as Duke Orsino delivers during Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, “play on.” Or, to look at the relationship from a slightly more modern angle: “Just get the perfect blend, plus what you have within” (Kelis, “Milkshake”). Music and food have gone hand-in-hand for Kelis – not only with the release of “Milkshake” (over a decade ago) – but through various other projects. Following the release of Tasty, Kelis graduated as a saucier, hosted her own cookery show (Saucy & Sweet on The Cookery Channel), previewed a sauce line called “Feast” – as well as a clothing line called “Cake” – and has been working on a recipe book for some time.
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