Album Review: R Kelly ‘Write Me Back’

Write Me Back is a direct followup to 2010’s Love Letter. With that album, R. Kelly was able to show his prowess in a new light, and thus separate himself from all of the controversy and weirdness that his career had become. It was a throwback 70’s soul record, and a surprisingly good one at that.

Not a lot has changed in two years. Like the previous record, Write Me Back is a classic soul album, but the difference this time may be that it has itself become old hat. It’s still a good enough album, but it’s not a bold step forward, and overall it actually feels a bit weaker than the first attempt.

‘When A Man Lies’ is the best song of the bunch, both musically and for its earnest writing. The lyrics aren’t particularly captivating on their own, and they may even be a bit of a cliche, but he sings in such a way here that even the most callow poetry might move you.

When you really pay attention to R. Kelly’s singing, he makes surprising utility of his voice. It’s easy to hear him as simply a good singer, because his style is quite unassuming, but his voice is always very busy and his skill as a vocalist is undeniably great.

The more upbeat songs, like ‘All Rounds On Me’ or ‘Party Jumpin’, present a syrupy, upbeat face for the record, granting a necessary and very successful dichotomy to offset the predictable deluge of ballads–which may be oversexed, but are in their own way tender. These segments of the record are where a bad R. Kelly album might get stuck on 15 minutes of thumping club tracks which read like a prosecution for a sex offender, but they come across better here in the absence of unmitigated ego.

The only real downside to this approach is that this is not the best R. Kelly album to make love to. I gave it a go, and it was fine enough, but things really picked up when I switched to Cee Lo’s Ladykiller, proving at least that it can be done better. The music, I mean.

R. Kelly comes across well when he is not being relentlessly creepy. He’s still a little creepy–just the right amount–but the tone inherent to this style of music seems to help keep that in check a bit. A fragile perspective on philandering is much more palpable, and should feel more real, for most listeners.

Moving to this style on Love Letter was interesting because it was unexpected, and he did it well, but this just feels like more of the same now, and that’s unfortunate. Write Me Back is not a very exciting record. The two albums go together very well, but the first is better, and it may be time for something brand new.

Release Date: June 26, 2012
Image Courtesy of RCA

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