Release Date: Jun 26, 2012
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): R&B, Pop/Rock, Adult Contemporary R&B, Contemporary R&B
R. Kelly's second consecutive throwback soul LP moves forward in time from the raw mid-Sixties-style belting of 2010's Love Letter. Write Me Back is suave, string-swathed Seventies revivalism, with tips of the hat to Barry White, Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. It's virtuoso pastiche – but Kelly's Seventies are freakier than your dad's.
When you’re the freakiest cat in R&B, sometimes the most shocking thing to do is play it straight: 2010’s Love Letter set aside Kelly’s fantasies about voyeur-istic midgets in favor of stately Sam Cooke-inspired jams. Write Me Back keeps the throwbacks coming, ensconcing his creamy croon in dramatic ’70s-nightclub strings and funky bedspread disco. His raison d’être is still Patrón-and-incense hedonism, but Kelly’s party-host earnestness is far more infectious than his three-way scenarios ever were.
On his 11th album, R. Kelly makes a graceful return to the place that has inspired him so prolifically, for better or worse: the club. Picking up where 2010's Love Letter left off, the R&B crooner explores grown-up 60s and 70s soul-pop that emphasizes his impressive pipes over his knack for unlikely sexual metaphors. This time around, he lingers longer in the 4/4 rhythms of late 70s symphonic disco and Philly soul.
Review Summary: Love is you and me, together, for eternityIt's a little strange that I'm sitting here thinking of ways to discuss the creative merits of an R. Kelly record - the very same eccentric character that announced a revival of the (at its best) ridiculous, 22-episode saga of "Trapped in the Closet" back in March. Easily the online meme of the mid 2000s, I remember watching each episode at least a dozen times in just as many liquor/etc-laden dorm rooms (as well as the obligatory follow-on South Park spoof).
Following the release of the retro-fitted Love Letter and evidently successful emergency throat surgery, R. Kelly was due for another abrupt turn with Black Panties, an album promised to continue in the vein of the classic 1993 album 12 Play. Instead, Kelly opted to prolong the nostalgia for older rhythm & blues. Write Me Back is a sequel to Love Letter, and while it does not beam as much excellence, it quickly deflects any preconceived idea that it might consist of scraps from the earlier album's sessions.
Uneven albums are all-too-familiar territory for R. Kelly fans. Even his best-loved (and plain best) albums, like 2003's world-conquering and rep-rehabilitating Chocolate Factory, feel like collections of blindingly slick singles padded with soggy ballads, awkward collaborations, and half-baked conceptual art pieces masquerading as R&B songs. So it's easy, in retrospect, to see the uniform goodness of 2011's Love Letter as an unexpected stroke of luck.
Considering he’s spent most of the past 10 years at the sharp end of the parody stick, it was somehow inevitable that R Kelly would look to recuperate in the cosy hinterland of pastiche. Prior to 2010’s ‘Love Letter’, Kelly’s career was starting to resemble Slim Pickens rodeoing the H-bomb to Earth at the climax of Dr Strangelove. Between the escalating ridiculousness of his ‘Trapped In The Closet’ series and a run of innuendo-laden comedy albums no man with that many child pornography charges hanging over his head had any business making, he had become R&B’s Mad King Ludwig, a hubristic, egomaniacal and heroically unself-aware figure of fun.When it comes to going off-reservation, no-one does it quite like R Kelly.
R. Kelly has always existed in a weird buffer dimension. Super talented with an evocative voice, years of Zorro masks, and sex acts with invisible women have made it difficult to always take him seriously. As a result, he’s been able to readily switch between the wackiness and serious emotional displays, a trait which has always made for entertaining music that hit just below its true potential.
The comparatively positive reaction R. Kelly earned with 2010’s Love Letter and now its samey follow-up, Write Me Back, goes to show either just how much dance-music fans (no doubt weary of full-metal-couture beats) are ready to embrace Philadelphia International pastiches, or that people genuinely believe R&B’s most comically illiterate songwriter is fully reformed after stepping astride the precipice of dirty-minded psychosis. And they’ll embrace even this-porridge-is-just-right uptempo mush if it comes with even just the whiff of a promise he’ll never put them through another multipart “song cycle” fixating on the gastrointestinal foibles of a gunshy midget or the transmission of HIV between pastors and pimps.
A relaxed exercise in spanning the spectrum of human emotion. Natalie Shaw 2012 Write Me Back picks up where 2010’s Love Letter left off – it’s another collection of faithful recreations, showing a quiet obsession with the origins of Motown. As creative and versatile as ever, R. Kelly masterfully collates personal anecdotes and presents them unhinged.