R. Kelly's last two albums, 2010's great Love Letter and last year's almost-as-good Write Me Back, initially scanned as vintage tribute. But as Robin Thicke's Marvin Gaye-inspired "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's Nile Rodgers-riffed "Get Lucky" duke it out on the charts and on The Colbert Report for "Song of the Summer" status, the R&B veteran's throwback work sounds right at home.
Nonetheless, Phoenix's recent remix pal has been working on what's billed as his first pop-centric album since 2009's hit-or-miss Untitled. Titled Black Panties, the forthcoming record has already offered one clear miss: "My Story," which features a whole lot of unsmiling rag-to-riches bragging that fails to charm despite a wacky 16 bars from 2 Chainz.
The latest track said to be set for the album, "Tear It Up," features another on-trend guest, Future, and is thankfully a return to over-the-top sex talk set atop pillowy synths and skeletal drum programming. Kells' sweet falsetto bounce neatly offsets the rough lovemaking described in his lyrics — look elsewhere for jeep, restaurant, and outer-space double entendres — and leaves it to the Pluto rappa ternt sanga to deliver the off-kilter verse in a similarly lilting cadence. Despite the bed-breaking, back-bending, hair-pulling, and other general freakiness, there would seem to be no "Blurred Lines" here: "When I ask you what you want / Usually do whatever," the R. sings near the start.
If nothing else, it's thrilling to hear an obvious predecessor of the-Dream take up Terius Nash's challenge and help R&B DJs "Slow It Down." Also listen for: Kelly returning to the closet (to "do it," of course) and signing off with "V.I.Me," an abbreviation he previously flaunted in his latest tour wardrobe. This is how he treats us well enough to have an airplane of stranded travelers break out singing "I Believe I Can Fly."