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Back To The Letters Of Love
on 10 July 2012
Longevity isn't a word that features significantly in much of what is termed 'Urban' music, and recent years have certainly witnessed a slew of young male singers eager to claim their place on the soul stage, before disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. In this regard R Kelly is certainly to be commended for his sheer ability to ride the waves of different styles and sounds since his emergence with Public Announcement in the early 1990s. 'Write Me Back' follows on from 2010's 'Love Letter', and bears many of the markers of that album, with iconography that clearly looks back to an ealier time in history and music. As before, the question is, does the music support the imagery?
The album opens with the driving 'Love Is', recorded in Chicago but certainly bearing the influence of the sound of Philadelphia and the unashamedly celebratory lyrics. This is certainly one deserving of a longer mix, with more fully articulated strings. The tempo shifts down for 'Feelin' Single', based loosely on the Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough classic 'Lovely Day', replete with a string arrangement and groove that bounces along very nicely, allowing Kelly's voice the space to shine. 'Lady Sunday' is similarly executed, being another celebration of love ('Miss Godly, Miss Righteous, Miss Hallelujah, take my hand, be my future') that is likely to work well on any self-respecting dancefloor, being a clear contender for issuing as a single. Kelly has never forgotten his roots in the church, and 'When A Man Lies' is soaked in the sounds of the church and the blues, telling the ages old story of infidelity, pain and regret, in an entirely modern production. 'Clipped Wings' follows in a similar vein, with a vocal arrangement that (to this listener) wouldn't sound out of place on a BLACKStreet album. 'Believe That It's So', in structure and melody is suggestive of Stevie Wonder, but the coda looks back to 'Step In The Name Of Love', a track that continues to permeate Kelly's writing (as it did on 'Love Letter'). Indeed it becomes clear that Kelly's ability to write songs that sound familiar, either through deliberate quotation or respectful imitation, threads thoughout the album, with 'Fool For You', 'All Rounds On Me' and 'Party Jumpin'' all referencing earlier sounds and styles. Arguably 'Green Light' and 'Believe In Me' reflect the production styles and writing of more recent years, whilst 'Share My Love' is undoubtedly a track likely to appeal to UK soul audiences and beyond, delivering an effortlessly feet and ear friendly groove. The Deluxe editions of the album feature four extra tracks, with 'Beautiful In This Mirror' perhaps intended for a different aesthetic, 'You Are In My World' featuring stylistic borrowings from the late Michael Jackson (particularly the ending vocal scatting from 'Remember The Time') and 'One Step Closer' initially suggesting Marvin Gaye's 'Distant Lover'.
So. Do you buy?
If 'Love Letter' represented a break away from the previous stylistic trappings adopted by Kelly this album develops and extends that apparent intention, which means that listeners will undoubtedly hear musical motifs from other songs abounding throughout, with the writing being evidence of Kelly's familiarity with the greats from the pantheon of black music. Whatever the questions this might raise there is absolutely no doubting Kelly's voice, which retains the versatility, range and absolute assuredness to undertake such a project. If there is a doubt it may stem from the naggging feeling that the production isn't quite up to the standards of the vocals, and one wonders what might emerge if Kelly was being driven by a demanding and imaginative producer of equal talent.
In summary, following on from 'Love Letter' this album will sound and feel warmly familiar. There are no co-vocalists or rappers (thereby avoiding a cliche that has plagued many recent soul releases) and like it's predecessor it is a commercial R&B / Soul album intended for grown ups.
It is another good album and is a good buy - but Kelly is undoubtedly capable of greater things.