On her previous release Flesh Tone five years ago,Kelis embraced an captivating balance of the modern day EDM sound with the 80’s new wave dance music and Eurodisco music that originally inspired it. While proving herself as a dance oriented artist,she began recording an album with producer Calvin Harris that was to embrace the 90’s trip-hop sound. I hadn’t personally heard about this until now because,from my own viewpoint,Kelis has always tended to lay rather low between her album releases. Though it was clear a new album by her was of course an inevitability, it again came as something of a surprise. Earlier this year,my friend (and current blogging partner) Henrique let me in on the fact that a new Kelis song was circulating online. And that it represented an album that was going to showcase a major change of musical direction. Of course,that has been Kelis’s MO from the moment she first came out. And even for that,so far? Most of what she’s released has been variations on a certain theme. So there really hasn’t been a major artistic leap for her since she first debuted at the end of the 1990’s. This album promised to change all that. And it actually delivered on that too.
“Breakfast” begins the album with the live band playing on this entire album showcasing a mid 90’s style hip-hop/soul/pop/dance type song with an ode to a very fulfilling type of love. “Jerk Kiss” is the song that bought me to this album-a shuffling,lilting song based in rining percussion and a wonderfully complex jazzy bass line and African Boogaloo style horn punctuation for an album ideal post modern funk stew and really still my favorite number here-especially with its triumphantly melodic choral refrain. “Forever Be” blends an a post punk pop/rock sound with psychedelic string orchestration with a rather Egyptian style chorus. On the spare ballads”Floyd”,”Rumble” and the uptempo soulful stomper of “Friday Fish Fry” Kelis and the band embrace the blues very heavily-with her smokey voice providing the honest atmosphere needed. If its serious funk your looking for? “Hooch” delivers the perfect storm groove with the drumming,bass/guitar bottom accents,bell-like percussion and strong,building horn lines. “Cobbler” mixes a strong Afro-Latin percussion flavor into the groove-again with the bass and horns leading the way. “Bless The Telephone” is a quietly melodic South African sounding acoustic guitar based folk melody. Following the Eastern oriented melody of the epic production in “Change”,the album ends with two complexly jazzy and melodic numbers “Biscuits And Gravy” and “Dreamer”-on which Kelis declares her creative manifesto in the most eloquently poetic terms lyrically.
Upon listening to this album initially? I didn’t really like it all that much. There is a certain type of under produced live instrumental sound that seemed to derive out of Time Out of Mind era Bob Dylan that…well I don’t think fits very well with every creatively minded artist that happens to come around. Actually heard it most recently on Elvis Costello and The Roots Wise Up Ghost,which I am still not exactly fond of for that same reason. On the other hand,once I listened to this album as a whole it became clear that it is actually very in keeping with Kelis’s musical evolution. Recorded with Dave Sitek as producer,Kelis has recently stated that the album was not intended to follow along a particular line of musical credibility. But was rather a means by which to capture the feeling of the classic soul and funk albums of her parents record collection. Utilizing a full live instrumental sound for the very first time,this album has some of the strongest funk grooves Kelis has ever recorded. Not only that, but in terms of melody and instrumental style Kelis not only embraces American soul music but African soul as well. The voiceings of the horns,bass lines and of course percussion effects spring right from the same source that originally inspired James Brown’s funk innovations. So what Kelis does here-mixing American soul/R&B,blues rock and Afro-Pop type grooves in a live equivalent of the contemporary idiom? She is reviving the idea of what some refer to as the “funk process” album for the modern age: building from post hip-hop styles to recreate a new funk. In the first listen,it may not be apparent. Yet digging a little deeper? Kelis is delivering here the type of album that has the power to revitalize live instrumental soul/funk on an enormous level if properly followed through. An album surely worth hearing!