During much of the 90’s, the success of R&B was largely dependent on how much alike (and how much of a party atmosphere) it had as opposed to any strong creative activity. Somehow, R. Kelly was one of a few who flourished as a standout artist during this time. That’s because he both resisted the contemporary soul/R&B/funk in its day and embraced it. One thing about this album is that it closed his first decade of recording by embracing the recently revived concept of the double album in the genre. Not only that but is also showed how the modern spirit seemed to resist the impulse of the double album itself.
The double album format was generally presenting a lot of quality music with extended runs. And little to no weak songs. This album might count as a slight revival of the format. Still, this album had many of the pros and cons of it’s era. Across 29 tracks and over two hours, this is probably one of the longest double sets-made for the CD era. Its main flaw was to fill nearly every available moment of space on the CD with music. Also as with all of R.Kelly’s 90’s albums, its uneven. Honestly, this would’ve made an excellent hour long single CD. And still been his best release of the decade.
But the fact it was so uneven was part of it’s charm. What the fairly generic 2-step style hip-hop/R&B (fairly new at the time) lacked in musical innovation they gained on in lyrical content. Songs such as “When A Woman’s Fed Up” and “Down Low Double Life” basically help the listener to understand the place modern women have in their failed relationships with “doggish men”-as R calls them-as well as their partial responsibility.
Musically by far two of the strongest songs here are the first two. “Home Alone” with Keith Murray and “Spendin’ Money”.
The two tunes here featuring Jay Z “We Ride”,”Only Loot Can Make Me Happy” and (to an extent) the Nas duet of “Money Makes The Wold Go ‘Round” all have a stripped down “nu-funk” late 90’s equivalents of the naked funk style. And they built on some thick, phat electric bass and excellent songwriting. There’s also two rather unique songs in the context of this particular album in the mid tempo, wah wah drenched “Suicide”,a scarily cinematic slice of slow funk concerning someone thinking the ending of a relationship as the end of his life.
“Dancing With A Rich Man” brings in light Latin dance ballad rhythm,keeping the “Spanish tinge” introduced from jazz to R&B and onward alive in his music. Of course, there’s also “If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time”-a completely Sam Cooke inspired vocal on a 60’s styled soul ballad and the more Motown flavored ballad “What I Feel/Issues” in direct counterpoint to the more obviously adult contemporary “I’m Your Angel” with Celine Dion. And also the addition of the epic gospel soul standard Kelly wrote “I Believe I Can Fly”.
So for sure ‘R’ has its lack of focus. But in addition to allowing his musical unevenness to showcase the dual nature all classic soul artists tend to have, this album also shows how he tends to approach his albums in a similar manner to Persian rugs; he tends to leave one or more musical knot undone and flawed. Jus so the album has no chance of being perfect. It keeps his music human for sure. And sometimes it keeps things from being as good as they could be. No matter how one approaches this, it’s still one of his finest releases.