His ninth studio collection since emerging as a solo artist with 12 Play in 1993, Untitled is R Kelly’s first album since he went to trial on child pornography charges in the summer of 2008. Considering the accusations he faced, and was ultimately cleared of, one might’ve expected the man once crowned the “King of RnB” to craft a musical narrative in the vein of Michael Jackson’s HIStory, as a medium to further affirm his innocence.
But, perhaps surprisingly, Kelly has opted to consign his troubles to the past and focus on what made his name in the first place: a tried and tested formula of sexually themed lyricism. And who can really blame him? Classics like Bump ‘n’ Grind did, after all, make him one of the biggest stars in the world in the 90s. But the problem is that he’s not markedly developed his technique, and continues to visit familiar ground about adulterous lust. Provocative though its intentions are, it all seems a little tiresome.
After winning three Grammy Awards for I Believe I Can Fly in 1998, Kelly abandoned power ballads. Untitled is subsequently comprised almost exclusively of vocoder-saturated RnB floor-fillers, littered with suggestive and borderline perverse lyrics. A salient example is Text Me, which masquerades as a master class in phone sex but is ultimately an unromantic lesson which should put teenage boys off sending any cheeky texts. “Are you gonna give me a lap dance / While you’re wearing hot pants?” our protagonist teases; “Sink, sink deep into your middle like it’s quicksand.”
Be My #2 employs the innovative Jack Splash on production – but unfortunately its lyrics highlight a derogative attitude towards women. It’s a horn-plagued club banger encroaching on French house territory, which Kelly croons over with the silkiness of Marvin Gaye. But its misogyny prevents it being a standout, leaving Love the DJ as Untitled’s saviour, its uplifting, contagious chorus and Eurodance beat shining as brightly as his Ignition hit of 2003. Elsewhere, Echo is a dream – a smouldering workout that introduces yodelling into RnB.
Despite its polished production and vocals, Untitled is ultimately flawed by overtly macho lyrics and Kelly’s insistence to force fans to hear about his sex life. Surely the man has got more in his locker than this? --David Aaron
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