Five Rea5ons I Should Be Excited About Kelis’ Flesh Tone

Posted: July 5, 2010 by RA in Music
Tags: , ,

KelisFleshToneKelis Rogers-Jones, the baddest chick to come out of a musical era that didn’t particularly value badness, is back. From her beginnings working exclusively with the Neptunes to her stellar later work with Raphael Saadiq and Dallas Austin, Kelis has been one of the bravest, most consistently genre-defying artists of the past decade. And now she’s set to return on July 6 with Flesh Tone, her first release on Will.i.am’s eponymous record label.

I should be excited. Problem is, I’m not. Here are 5 reasons why: 

 

 

1. Flash and Style Aside, She’s Got Chops

When she first burst onto the scene, there really was no question as to the quality of her vocals or the substance of her music. But as her style began to evolve, her Serious Artist™ credentials began to suffer. Still, after a full show of being “Bossy” and “Milkshake”-ing it up, she would silence her detractors by reaching for “Get Along With You” — the crown jewel of her catalog — and shutting it down with a live vocal more powerful and urgent than the sublime studio recording.
Problem is: After watching Pharrell mold Gwen Stefani in her image (c’mon, you know “Hollaback Girl” was “Milkshake 2.0”) and seeing everyone from Fergie-Ferg to Nelly Furtado get far richer off one facet of her persona than she ever did, she began to churn out more sing-songy nonsense than worthwhile music. For every “Circus”, we had to sit through drivel like “Aww Shit”.

Kelisoscope2. But Damn, Does She Know Flash
From her technicolor Kaleidoscope cover to the one-two punch of aggression that was the “Caught Out There” single and its accompanying video, Kelis has always been an artist who understood the importance of presentation. However, unlike most of her progeny, her sound was substantive enough to stand independent of her image.

That’s all well and good, but damn, was her image interesting to look at. Whether it was sexy, not so sexy, or a certain look that would become ubiquitous five years later, she kept things interesting in a time when record contracts seemed to stipulate that female artists look like Beyoncé.
Problem is: Now that everyone‘s expressing their (stylists’) individuality, not only are we spoiled for choice, but Kelis sometimes ends up looking kinda like that Auntie who stays trying to show you how she used to be the baddest thing on the block. Don’t get me wrong, she still often nails it with an arresting visual. But every now again she makes us all cringe. Even the Flesh Tone album art looks like a first-year Graphic Design student offered to style and art-direct the whole thing for college credit. And then there’s this… situation.

3. She’s Often Very Savvy in Choosing Producers
The very first words on Kelis’ very first album didn’t come from her. Rather, it was then-mentor/lover Pharrell Williams who said “We found her…” That sentiment seemed to inform much of the public’s perception of her throughout the first part of her career. The belief was that there was no Kelis without Pharrell. (Of course, it didn’t help that, like fellow Neptunes protegees The Clipse, Kelis couldn’t be found on a track that wasn’t produced by the Neps, even if she was guesting on another artist’s record.)

But when the two parted ways during the recording of Tasty, she found herself in equally perfect pairings with both Dallas Austin and Raphael Saadiq. So it’s my belief that she just happens to be capable of that Janet/Jimmy/Terry, Aaliyah/Tim symbiosis I speak of so often, with any producer of her choosing. That’s an incredibly valuable asset that could result in a killer album.
Problem is: She’s working with douches like David Guetta and Benny Benassi this time around. While Guetta is at least a douche with some redeeming works, the last thing I want is for Kelis to build the next phase of her catalog with an eye on what will play well at Pacha.

4. She Wrote Most of the Songs While Pregnant
As if being pregnant wouldn’t guarantee enough hormonal insanity, throw in the disintegration of her marriage, and you’ve got material for the greatest, wrist-slittingest songwriting of the year. Set those lyrics to some splashy house tracks, and you’re bound to get the most brilliantly bizarre conceptual art this side of Vulva!
Problem is: She recorded most of it while pregnant. She sounds positively lethargic on “4th of July”, one of the few cuts with single-potential. Plus, songwriting-wise, we were totally ripped off. Not one of the songs evokes the image of a hysterically weepy Kelis, mascara streaming down tearstained cheeks, dancing up a storm in a maternity minidress in Ibitha. Not a single one

5. In a word, “Acapella”
The fact is, this album deserves to be a hit, if only to make up for the single not making any noise outside the Billboard Dance charts (where it peaked at number 1). From its opening moments, a tribal metronome leads the way as Guetta creates a soundscape that is futuristic, yet unashamedly ’90s. Kelis provides the tender counterpoint to the track’s primal ferocity, as they together paint a perfect picture of maternal instinct — in this case, Kelis’ love for her son, Knight. I’m not one for mushy, and to be honest, she could’ve sung this about toothpaste and I’d still call it a jam and a half. But the fact that Kelis is again singing about something substantive makes me smile.
Problem is: Not a single one. Halfway through the year, this song still has my vote for Pop Single of 2010. 

Honorable Mention: This

It’s nice to see her back with her old fire. I gave up on Kelis after that unfortunate Grammy Jacket incident, but I’m willing to ressurect her in my consciousness, and see where she’s going now.

To her credit, she’s worked very much outside the spheres of R&B and Hip-Hop for most of her career. Besides her side-projects and guest appearances, quite a few album cuts were very much outside the realm of “urban” music. While I don’t believe that in itself makes her a more credible artist, she gets points for her willingness to be real about the genre-confusion she often faces. Also, it lends credence to the idea that she isn’t a dilletante trying to jump on a (somewhat) hot trend right now. But either way, I just won’t be buying your album on Tuesday, Kelis.

Still, I am glad to see you back.

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Comments
  1. Raven says:

    While I’m not a huge Kelis fan, I prefer her ANYDAY to Lady Gaga. I wish Kelis was more popular and did more since she seems to have ten times more substance than Gaga does anyday.

    Anyways, Acapella is my jam.

  2. Dayo says:

    Ha!! After all that, you’re not gonna buy her album?!?! It’s beacuse of people like you that she’s not The Dancing Costume-successful! WHY WON’T YOU LET KELIS BE GREAT?!?! 😥

    …not that i care, either way.

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