4 stars (out of 5)
R. Kelly is in his own little world on “Write Me Back,” and it’s where he belongs.
The modern R&B icon doesn’t mess around with guest singers or much in the way of contemporary touches on his 11th release, a grounded follow-up to 2010’s eccentric “Love Letter.” He simply goes about the process of discretely and/or blatantly ripping off soul legends from decades ago.
Yet regardless of whether he used an aural equivalent of tracing paper to create these 12 tracks, and regardless of the calculating nature of “Write Me Back,” it’s as intoxicating as a classic soul/funk/disco release can be in 2012.
“They say love is blind,” Kelly groans at the beginning of first-track “Love Is,” an eye-opening kickstart to the release that rolls into a heavy, sensual groove. And although listeners might need to turn a blind eye of sorts to some of the blatant manipulation of what’s to come, Kelly shows a bit more restraint than he did on the overwrought “Love Letter.”
Still, he lays it on thick — in the finger-snapping atmosphere of “Feelin’ Single,” in the percussive tumble of “Lady Sunday” (“Life is a road, and she is my ride”) and in the percolating syrup of “Clipped Wings.” He seductively panders to women in the smooth-talking “When a Man Lies” (“When a man lies, he kills every reason she ever had for loving him”), and he effectively explores the higher end of his croon on “Fool for You.” He also recovers when he edges into the anachronistic stylings of “Party Jumpin’” and “All Rounds on Me.”
And for his finale, Kelly channels Barry White on a “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”-sounding closer, “Share My Love.”
However, Kelly is no Barry White; his voice is more precise, less soulful. But he’s no slouch, either, and he knows what he’s doing.
So even if this is a synthetic drug rather than the real thing, “Write Me Back” is still addictive.