In a recent interview, the mononymous Milkshake mama Kelis laid it on extra thick, saying that the producer of her new sixth album didn’t feel the need to “suffocate with his creativity,” thus allowing her to be imaginative and comfortable and “brilliant.”
It’s good to see an artist who doesn’t suffer from lack of confidence, but, really, the best things about Kelis’s Food (she is a certified saucier with a penchant for caloric metaphors) are the treatments from David Andrew Sitek, the album’s producer and founding member of Brooklyn’s art-soul adventurers TV on the Radio. His touches and choices are wise, sublime and measured. In particular, the local brass-players’ union is pleased with the business created by Sitek, who called on trumpeters, flautists, flugelhornists and all manner of saxophonists to create a lean, classy tone to Kelis’s tasty (look what she made me do there) R&B choices.
We hear the best of Kelis’s kitchen on Jerk Ribs, a smooth glide of excellent brass, string and percussive ideas, set to a nimble bass line and carried by the singer’s husky croon. Lyrically (and otherwise) it is a celebration of music and early memories: “In Harlem where I started to breathe, the beat was like a soundtrack to me.” Later, when she sings of melodies and bass vibrations, and that it “feels like it should,” one can only sip a blended whisky product and nod in agreement.
The following Forever Be is mature pop, warmed by strings and Kelis’s self-assurance that her romantic choice of the moment is the right one.
Floyd is a pretty boy, all soft and floaty with touches of glockenspiel, bass clarinet, Rhodes organ and flute. This is refined R&B stuff, recalling the rich-voiced charisma heard on records made by people named Meshell Ndegeocello and Roberta Flack. (The album cover of Food is retro, revisiting an era when radio listeners were killed softly by words.)
In important ways, Kelis’s Food is similar to Neneh Cherry’s latest, Blank Project. Cherry, identified with her hip-hop pioneering song Buffalo Stance from 1989, this year released a mature, thoughtful and vibrant comeback album. Kelis, meanwhile, is remembered by casual fans for the then-futuristic R&B of her 2003 hit Milkshake. Since then, Kelis has married and divorced rap star Nas, the father of her child, and has moved on to less style-conscious music.
Speaking of love and loss, Rumble finds Kelis confused about the status of a relationship: “You’re back to me, hand on the door, I wanna yell baby don’t go.” But on the bluesy, riffing and tumbling number, she rights herself: “What I need is you to leave ... I’m so glad you gave me back my keys.”
That resolved, we move on to the blaring power ballad Biscuits, on which Kelis goes epic vocally, emoting about the promise of new mornings. “This time tomorrow I will be renewed,” she vows. No leftovers for her, then. And no turning back.
Kelis plays Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on June 11.
THIS WEEK IN MUSIC
Top selling albums in Canada for the week ending April 27: While the soundtrack for the Disney film Frozen is immovable at the top of the Canadian album chart, the list is freshened with the arrival of rapper Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic and the Trews’ self-titled fifth LP, which debuted at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Rounding out the top five are Pharrell Williams’s Girl and an eponymous album from Serge Fiori.
Top single: Hats off to Pharrell Williams, whose Happy became the 28th song in the 55-year history of the Billboard Hot 100 to top the chart for at least 10 weeks. Other winners include John Legend's All of Me (which climbed to No. 1 on radio songs chart) and Iggy Azalea, the upstart whose Fancy breached the Hot 100’s top 10.
Albums released this week: Damon Albarn’s Everyday Robots, Jann Arden’s Everything Almost, Brian Blade’s Landmarks, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Phosphorescent Harvest, Brody Dalle’s Diploid Love, Ray LaMontagne’s Supernova, NQ Arbuckle’s The Future Happens Anyway, Old 97's Most Messed Up, The Pink Mountaintops’ Get Back, Pixies’ Indie Cindy, Eli (Paperboy) Reed’s Nights Like This, Chad VanGaalen’s Shrink Dust and Ben Watt’s Hendra.