Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rolling Stone: TP-2.COM Review

★ (out of 5)

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. A quick scan of song titles on R. Kelly's latest CD, (the title stands for "12 Play 2000," a reference to Kelly's 1993 album 12 Play), tells you all you need to know: "Strip for You," "The Greatest Sex," "Like a Real Freak," "Feelin' on Yo Booty." The set's anchor piece, though, is the track "R&B Thug"; the music's worldview is filtered through that contrived persona -- a combination of unchecked libido, ghetto-fabulous signifiers and self-pity. The real pity is that Kelly, one of the most talented players on the current R&B scene, repeatedly squanders his gifts. His voice simmers with an existential pain that is clearly rooted in the same secular vs. spiritual battle that defines the music of artists like Marvin Gaye and Prince. But he keeps the struggle one-sided in his lyrics -- staying largely on the bump-and-grind course -- and that wears thin quickly. He's repeating himself ("A Woman's Threat" is simply a retread of 1998's "When a Woman's Fed Up") and shamelessly playing to the charts ("Like a Real Freak" and "Fiesta" are the obligatory Latin-flavored tracks), while staying mired in ballad mode. The disc's one unqualified highlight occurs at the end of "I Wish," the first single. "Come on and braid my hair," he sings over and over, in a song that is -- in part -- about his lingering grief over his mother's death. It's in that throwaway line, sung plaintively and powerfully, that we hear the real beauty of both his literal and artistic voice.


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