Album review: Kelis, "Flesh Tone"
By Sean Fennessey
In R&B's fanatical inner circles Kelis is quietly celebrated as a forgotten innovator. Consider Beyoncé's tenacity, Ciara's hushed moan and Rihanna's hair, among other guideposts. Kelis, it's often said, was there first. So "Flesh Tone," her spry fifth album, comes as a surprise, mostly because it's hardly doing anything visionary. Which is not to say it isn't state of the art.
But Kelis has chosen a strange time to stop innovating. These have been tumultuous times for her: A label change, childbirth and divorce (from the rapper Nas) have swept through her life in the past few years. With them comes a full-blown shift from slinky, insinuating R&B to the heaving pop-dance hybrid that has overwhelmed commercial radio of late. It's all terribly au courant, as she enlists the house-music heavyweight and R&B interloper David Guetta for the stunning "Acapella." The song is a canny and enveloping dedication to her newborn son masquerading as a lover's anthem, a rare familial ode swathed in synth pads and filtered drums. Better still is Guetta's other contribution, "Scream," a paranoid, pinging cry for freedom.
With just nine songs spanning 37 minutes, "Flesh Tone" is a brief but full-figured album, with a pulse that is always quickening, building toward a release that never quite arrives. Few singers are as good at buildup as Kelis, especially as her breathy coo seems to get huskier and more shaded with age. And even if there's a vampiric cynicism to her disco embrace, for once she seems to be arriving with -- and not in anticipation of -- the zeitgeist.
July 6, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Quick spins | Tags: Kelis
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