Many R. Kelly fans were expecting the controversial singer’s 11th studio album to be his promised return to nasty form, a disc called “Black Panties.” Instead, he has delivered the classy soul collection “Write Me Back.”
Admirers of Kells’s more explicit material can take heart — he expects to deliver “Black Panties” early next year, and “Write Me Back” isn’t as far away from the music of his “12 Play” years as one might think.
The album is a follow-up of sorts to 2010’s critically acclaimed “Love Letter,” which found him experimenting with ’50s and ’60s soul. But “Write Me Back” moves the retro concept a little closer to present day, with Kelly mostly paying homage to music of the ’60s and ’70s. It’s not unfamiliar territory for the singer: Some of his most successful songs are updated, dirtied-up versions of the sort of ’70s soul perfected by artists such as Lenny Williams and Teddy Pendergrass.
On “Write Me Back,” however, Kelly plays the soul music straight. Without all of the weird trademark metaphors listeners know and love (or loathe, as the case may be), Kelly reminds everyone how great his voice and production ear truly are.
On album-opener “Love Is,” he channels Barry White, complete with a chatty intro and long-ish windup before the first verse appears. “Feeling Single” is an R&B pop ballad reminiscent of “Off the Wall”-era Michael Jackson. On “Lady Sunday,” Kelly shows that trouble with the Internal Revenue Service isn’t the only thing he shares with Ron Isley — it’s a meandering sort of “Summer Breeze”-style tune.
Lead single “Share My Love” is about as suggestive as the project gets, with Kelly asking his lady to “lay your body right here, baby.” It’s just suggestive enough to appeal to those who over the years have enjoyed hearing Kelly comparing sex to interplanetary travel and a visit to Jurassic Park, but sweet enough to avoid offending everybody else.
“Share My Love,” “Love Is,” “Feeling Single,” “Lady Sunday”