Forget about the chin--men take it square on the nose in Kelis's "Caught Out There," an I'm-really-mad-and-I'm-not-going-to-take-it-anymore rant that's been catching folks' attention on radio and television.
It's not that the subject matter is entirely new--men have been louses as long as they've been lovers--and 1999 has certainly been a year for caustic put-downs of the male species, as in "No Scrubs" by TLC and "Bills, Bills, Bills" by Destiny's Child.
But those two hits were fueled by materialistic zeal. "Caught Out There" is much more fundamental, a volcanic eruption of rage against all the liars and cheaters who disrespect and betray their partners. After a cold recitation of her lover's crimes, Kelis brings it home with total bluntness--"I hate you so much right now!"--and after pressing that point home with repetitions, launches into a primal scream that would make Arthur Janov proud.
Kelis's rage--somewhat reminiscent of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know"--is more fully realized in the Hype Williams-directed video in which she beats up her wayward lover and trashes his apartment, threatens to pull the plug on him in a hospital emergency room and, finally, leads a mob of suburban housewives into a street demonstration. They are angry women, hear them roar!
"Caught Out There" is the standout track on Kelis's promising debut album, "Kaleidoscope" (Virgin). The 20-year-old singer, raised in Harlem by a father who is both an ordained minister and a jazz saxophonist and a mother who's a fashion designer, is a graduate of the "Fame"-inspiring La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts, where she studied drama, sax and violin. After a brief fling with modeling, Kelis connected with the Virginia Beach production team the Neptunes, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams. The latter is responsible for the majority of the writing on "Kaleidoscope."
Despite her hit single's suggestion, Kelis is still game for good love. In the sensually charged "Good Stuff," she offers herself up with bonuses: "If you calm down, boy, I'll throw my heart in free/ I can love you in a million ways/ if you don't like it send it back in 30 days." In "Mafia," hip-hop with a sinewy Middle Eastern musical motif, she and rapper Markita explore love and loyalty with variations on the code of omerta ("I'd lie for you, of course, since my love is like the Mafia/ for you I testify").
While "Game Show" is rhythmically enticing--the Neptunes' specialty is spare, taut Timbaland-informed beats punctuated by choppy piano and guitar chords--it belabors its metaphors. Sometimes the Neptunes' skittish rhythmic approach limits Kelis's melodic and emotional range, which is why the album's more engrossing tracks are those that sidestep its production straitjacket.
For instance, "Suspended" evokes a dreamy psychedelic haze. And when Kelis sings "This is not just in your mind/ We're suspended from space and time," you're convinced. Even better are a pair of duets, "Ghetto Children" and "Wouldn't You Agree." The first is a loving wake-up call featuring Marc Dorsey in Stevie Wonder-like mode and "We're a Winner"-style sentiments. "No matter what teachers say to you/ Ghetto children are beautiful," Kelis and Dorsey sing, counseling against domestic violence and easy materialism. "There's a secret to why you must survive/ . . . Change the world, don't let the world change you!"
By contrast, "Wouldn't You Agree," performed with Justin Vince, is a slow, haunting ballad of betrayal that captures the desolation and despair brought on by infidelity. "Look what you did to us, look what you did to me," Kelis sings with husky sorrow. "What a wonderful loss, wouldn't you agree!"
The album, however, is a wonderful discovery.
To hear a Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.