★★★½ (out of 5)
Following the release of the retro-fitted Love Letter and evidently successful emergency throat surgery, R. Kelly was due for another abrupt turn with Black Panties, an album promised to continue in the vein of the classic 1993 album 12 Play. Instead, Kelly opted to prolong the nostalgia for older rhythm & blues. Write Me Back is a sequel to Love Letter, and while it does not beam as much excellence, it quickly deflects any preconceived idea that it might consist of scraps from the earlier album's sessions. Kelly's inspirations are occasionally obvious. "Love Is" and "Share My Love," the bookends of the album's standard edition, bleed the elegant, gentlemanly soul-disco of the Philadelphia International label -- Teddy Pendergrass' '70s work with and without Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in particular. "Green Light" recalls the sensual, feather-light touch of '70s Isley Brothers ballads like "Voyage to Atlantis." "Fool for You" is pure, sly Smokey Robinson. "You Are My World," originally written for Michael Jackson, turns out to be more of an overt MJ tribute -- from quotes to grunts -- than anything recorded by Ne-Yo. When Kelly takes it back to the early '60s, as he does on the feel-good "All Rounds on Me" and "Party Jumpin'," the results are less natural sounding. Other songs, such as the smooth gliding trio of "Feelin' Single," "Lady Sunday," and "Believe That It's So," are akin to Kelly circa 2003/2004. While he might be recycling himself on these and a couple other numbers, there's too much warmth and joy to be rejective. If anything, Write Me Back proves that Kelly's mode throughout Love Letter was no fluke. It's apparent that he can be retro and urbane as instinctively as he can be cutting edge and filthy.