Singing about being a sex symbol isn't Kelis' thing, she just is one. Her beefed-up vocals are chunkier bites than her limited range might suggest. Curates egg Kelis Was Here from 2006 was an almighty chore to get through on the one listen, sitting on 18 tracks - so thankfully the new beatwise album Flesh Tone, benefiting from her recent UK top 5 smash Acapella, is a mere 9 in length (ideal to go to bed with then, etc). This means the album has to live up to its quality-not-quantity statement and every second is going to count. Short on tracks, it's not short on dynamite.
Thick electro slice Intro is mid-tempo but definately a stomper. Her husky swoops go from high to low registers. The beat is slick and her vocal has the reliably gutsy and committed function we expect. She shuffles you into track two before it even gets two more choruses to outstay its welcome. Maxing out her credit on euphoria, 22nd Century barely starts and it sounds like a classic. Sounding ready to dance until death, Kelis devours musical genres like a flesh eating bug, she just owns this.
Piano-tripping ballad to a beat 4th July has her macho but sensitive timbre making things sound decent, giving her music an accessibility other so-called avant garde phenoms are in want of. Home is a raved up electro-grinder with speed-blurred teetering synths and storytelling piano. The second moment I think to myself: 'classic'.
Probably the only track to faintly resemble any other Kelis track (I'm going for Help Me with Tino Maas to back me up on this), lead single Acapella is a damp patch in anyone's pants. I don't get the appeal: being very glad it has been a success for her, and the video is great, but it stays at the one level throughout - Kelis is to be celebrated for bringing such minimilism to the top of the charts.
We are dictated to listen to the album as a whole with the 'mix', and Scream's beginning is probably the most intrusive - we need to listen to not-my-favourite Acapella to get the full experience. Probably the one time her enthusiasm to experiment feels in danger of not quite coming off, robo-rap is short lived and interspersed with long flowing vocal strands, the second battery-powered announcement is way better than even the Black Eyed Peas think they can manage.
Futuristic dumb fun moment Emancipate is a reprtitious instruction with frenetic, stark beats backing her up. Thankfully, her nose-scrunching and moist sass is evident to save it from mere chanting ennui, and a human-connection middle-8 that might just be the year's best one yet. Most straightforward of all and separated by a heavy hitting beatmachine leaving rappers to shame, once it officially starts Brave is a fleshed-out clubccentric Daft Punk meets She Wolf move.
I bet Solange wishes her throwbacks were as good as the piano-disco For The Baby, which gulps the bass like it's air to breathe. Peaking and peaking, Kelis' attitude is simple: 'I love you than you'll ever know'. Sounding like an Alcazar instrumental, the fattest dance-pop juice of the album.
Kelis is the effortlessly atypical solo artist who puts her contemporaries to shame, she never sounds forced. Super strong squelchy synth sounds are sassy and completely realized as her natural was-it-ever-any-different habitat. Humanised verses are her speciality, whilst chorus structure and elastic production probing set the bar very high throughout. Singing smartly about her heart whilst still having fun in the club if you need it that way, genre-shapeshifter Kelis already partied so hard like it was 1999 in 1999 with Kaleidoscope, so obviously the only future her music can go is the 22nd century (with a richer sense of rhythm, she out-kaleidoscopes Kaleidoscope). Pumped full of glamour and potential hits, there are only 9 songs, which are demanding, frothy, heart-laboured and exuberant ones at that. Okay fine, even Acapella's good. Each segment a new page, Kelis asserts herself, never relying on alien soundscapes, her neutral-but-naked voice is never not centre of attention. Flesh Tone eliminates dumb-ass posturing so much that she doesn't mention her ass even once, or maybe I missed that. Wise wise-ass sass. The high-speed volubility is worth the concentration.