Monday, June 25, 2012

BBC: Write Me Back Review

A relaxed exercise in spanning the spectrum of human emotion.

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. The way he spans the spectrum of human emotion is a rare gift.

The singer’s depth of knowledge gives him the opportunity to hone in on unusual angles. On Share My Love, his stunning take on proto-disco capitulates with a tongue-in-cheek cry to “populate”. But amusing adlibs aside, the precision with which he approaches his influences reveals his perfectionist core.

Perfectionist or not, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Kelly trotting out a track like Beautiful in This Mirror. It seems to literally be about a couple having sex while looking in a mirror, commenting on how attractive they look. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

But that’s just his way: Kelly’s emphases are often so deliberately unearnest that they end up sounding like James Brown-style poetry. On Love Is, a phrase as seemingly mundane as “I love what you do / When you do what you do / To me” twists and twirls, its smooth delivery propelling it to a summit. His lack of brevity is enticing, and he fits the role of preacher like a natural.

The way the music itself mirrors the narrative is inspired. On the Smokey Robinson-inspired Fool for You, he moves into an embarrassing falsetto as he tries to excuse himself for behaving in a certain way. When a Man Lies is group therapy for the male fans, a lesson in how bad it is for men to fib to their loved ones, while Feelin' Single latches onto Michael Jackson’s verve with a carefree groove and affirmative, optimistic mood.

Kelly is in control throughout Write Me Back, without guest vocalists or producers, and his part-hustler, part-loner demeanour is as strong as it’s ever been. His relaxed intonation shows a talent that doesn’t need to be stretched to the limit to produce its best work.

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