There are a lot of things that come to mind when you say "R. Kelly." "Fiesta, fiesta;" "It's the freakin' weekend;" this
; Trapped in the Closet
; that whole business with teenagers; Aziz Ansari's stand-up describing R. Kelly faux-ejaculating on his audience. But one thing that absolutely does not come to mind: wholesome R&B (even though his 2010 Love Letter
was admittedly just that). Continuing the R&B epistle theme, Write Me Back
is Mr. Kelly singing jams at his most Barry White-est, and it's really too bad.
It's hard to tell if the blame should land on the production or the songwriting or something else but whatever it is, Write Me Back
is vapid, unoriginal, and unlike R. Kelly in every way. It's as if his managers sat in a room and said, "Hey, how can we make Robert seem as far away from his persona as possible? Get him to make a Kidz Bop
album? Okay, yes! Let's get it done!" I wish I was kidding -- but minus the adult language and themes, "Fool For You" and "Party Jumpin'" (which may win the award for worst song of 2012) sound like they were written by a nine year-old.
It's just sad that a man with so much energy and so much soul has been filtered into this please-everyone state. On "Believe That It's So," R. Kelly sings meaningless platitudes about love like "There's no mountain we can't move," as if his listeners wouldn't immediately recall one of the most iconic R&B songs ever written. As if that isn't enough, the song inexplicably morphs into an ode to clubbing halfway through. You can imagine the thought process -- "half a song for the elders who think I'm too raunchy, then half a song for the people who still want the 'Ignition' in me."
Write Me Back
does have a few moments where not even R. Kelly can hold himself back though. "Believe In Me" and "Green Light" are at the very least authentic and feeling, and "Feelin' Single" is a toe-tapping, lighthearted track that's actually very endearing. But for every "Feelin' Single" there are three songs like "Lady Sunday," which actually sounds like it was written by Andy Samberg (you can even picture him singing it with Chris Parnell and Justin Timberlake, decked out in the "Dick in the Box" outfits
The album is a simple example of what happens when an artist tries to appease everyone, when someone tries to be something he's not. Write Me Back
has none of the grit that old R. Kelly had, none of that "he may do something crazy" unexpectedness we loved about him. Instead, it just sounds like someone had a gun to his head, forcing him to feed the masses with boring R&B songs.