Recognised throughout Europe, the UK, Canada and even Australia, the music career of Kelis has remained largely underrated throughout the US. Apart from the odd novelty song such as ‘Milkshake’ which reached top five on the Billboard Hot 100, she has been written off as just that – a novelty.
However Kelis’ latest album ‘Flesh Tone’ is of a very different tenor to anything she has previously released. There is something largely futuristic about the album and it is her most refined work yet. The album marks a sound transition from her signature R&B style to a smooth fusion of dance and pop. She signals the album with an introduction that seems to directly reference her modification of genre. “What is this?” she asks. “I have no idea”.
Indeed, one only has to compare the intense visual qualities of the video of the album’s lead-single ‘Acapella’ to the mildly vulgar diner set of ‘Milkshake’ to see how Kelis has matured. The clip for Acapella, directed by John ‘Rankin’ Waddell, Christ Cottam and Nicole Ehrlich, has a distinctly earthly feel to it – an Avatar-esque mother earth quality. As Kelis said; “I heard the beat, and there was something really tribal and carnal and animalistic about it…” In contrast to her usual tight jeans and midriff, Kelis is introduced in a striking feather headdress surrounded by sweeping ferns. Close-ups are both sensual and alluring and she appears poised and graceful - dignified as she walks away from the camera with her new-born baby strapped to her back. Indeed it is clear from the lyrics that the song is a celebration of the birth of her son Knight. Her life once experienced alone - an a Cappella - is now a symphony.
However Kelis’ biggest attribute, as well as the reason for her failure, has always been her flair for experimentation. It seems she has learnt from her mistakes – ‘Flesh Tones’ is a highly calculated release. It is the type of house music that can do no wrong - one dance-floor anthem after another with staple club beats and smooth symphonic melodies. Kelis has done well considering her intentions but some fans of her work will be disappointed. Though the album is impressive - the songs blending seamlessly together with similar rhythms and sounds - Kelis has failed to produce anything groundbreaking.
Kelis second album the 2001 ‘Wanderland’ only sold 80,000 copies world-wide. Kelis accused the U.S. record company Virgin of not understanding the album when they refused to release any more singles after ‘Young, Fresh n’ New’. Critically however, this album was acclaimed for being adventurous, colourful and eccentric. It was just an example of the wrong album being released at the wrong time.
In contrast, the 2010 ‘Flesh Tones’ undoubtedly conforms to the times. The album is not long - featuring only 9 songs and lasting just over 37 minutes - but it is an album of songs that are capable of standing by themselves. ‘Acapella’ reached number 1 on both the U.S Hot Dance Club Songs as well as the UK Dance Singles. Its release has been followed by ‘4th July (Fireworks)’ which has also been well-received positioning top-20 spots on both charts.
In a sense Kelis is still pushing boundaries - this album is unlike anything she has produced before. She seems genuinely inspired by her change in style and her efforts are commendable. Once again she has an infallible backing team including will.i.am, Boyz Noize, Diplo, Switch and David Guetta. ‘Acapella’ was produced by Guetta which is unsurprising when considering the characteristic of the beat.
The closer for ‘Flesh Tone’, ‘Song for the Baby’, is probably the most unusual song on the album but after the lively brass introduction it lapses back into the regular trance beat and melodic-pop overtone. Having collaborated with artists as diverse as Bjork, Andre 3000, N.E.R.D and Crookers, this album does seem rather tame for Kelis. It is a celebration of a very particular genre of music not leaving room for any type of error. However – as we’ve seen previously – these mistakes are what make Kelis so interesting.
Highlights :: ‘Brave' and ‘Acapella’