After the Fourth Quarter project leaked unchecked last year, R. Kelly decided to scrap most of his new material and go back to the drawing board. The end result is his latest full-length effort, Untitled. We could argue that an ego-dipped pointless sequel was for publicity and nothing more; in that form a new album for 2009 would make perfect sense, considering how awful that first effort turned out to be. On Untitled, R. Kelly scores bonus points for repairing his presence and reputation in one fell swoop, in the process saving two of Fourth Quarter‘s better offerings, “Go Low” and “Whole Lotta Kisses”. By the presumptuous new anti-title, we see an indirect plea for clean slates in the public eye. Moving past “Whisper Song”-meets-AutoTune opener “Crazy Night” and the Sesame Street chorus/overdone vocal prowess on “Exit”, we get to the meat of the matter on Untitled… happy Thanksgiving?
“Echo” feels like a guest spot on 808s and Heartbreak minus AutoTune and established rappers aching to sing (bring on the Kanye hate mail). The drums and Kelly mesh brilliantly, and alongside “Bangin’ The Headboard”, it makes for one of two rather impressive Untitled inclusions. Some bravado, some “baby, baby”, everything falls into place, and R. Kelly finally reverts back being himself. Next up is the sensual beat drive “Go Low”, which this reviewer did not take kindly to the first go ’round. It has found its proper placement, alongside the still infectious “Whole Lotta Kisses”. This pair owes a great deal to reintroduction, as this new approach brings fresh ears to the subject matter sans being bogged down by sequel status, retrofitted now for a clean-cut, point blank R&B/dance record. If we can see past the unfortunate choice for first single dubbed “Number One”, a cut featuring Keri Hilson and a ton of delusional grandeur, we arrive at a strictly party track titled “I Love The DJ”, which transitions us to the dance portion.
From here we travel in reverse, moving from bedrooms and whispered nothings to the dance floor — and we firmly believe that “I Love The DJ” should have been R. Kelly’s premiere single from Untitled, but once you snag the record you can decide for yourself. A “buddy system” has been implemented henceforth: “I Love The DJ” is followed by club banger “Supaman High” and disco-infused “Be My #2”; the two Fourth Quarter selections are side-by-side; the two worst songs placed at first are indeed paired up. If it was intentional, then the only logic is treating each set like a group of consecutively released EPs — much like a compilation, slightly disjointed, but still carrying a little weight behind it in terms of R. Kelly’s usual slick cat fare and sex romp foreplay, glazed by a few soprano upswings and a choir-trained diaphragm.
From this point on we hit a down slope, with “Text Me” as a throwaway piece of rehashed filler, “Religious” and “Elsewhere” iced with piano and subtle charms all their own (another pair indeed), and the all-important album closer “Pregnant” left reduced to a guest-heavy finale of guests we don’t particularly care about these days (doesn’t Tyrese have some more lame post-Soul Food copycat flicks to cut and print? Baby Boy 2, perhaps?). R. Kelly made a bold 50/50 shot and managed to suck in a 90s R&B washout, some 00s pop blandness, and The Dream (I can’t really say much about him, he’s The Dream). R. Kelly has been on his own for the most part, and did splendidly up until now, so I suppose this closer was his built-in panic button.
I sincerely respect R. Kelly for delivering this album after the Fourth Quarter fiasco had me completely lose my faith in his potential. It’s rare that anyone gets a chance to recover from a leaked project of absolute crap by re-recording 90% of said project with a different outlook altogether successfully, so R. Kelly ought to be thanking his publicist’s lucky stars, as well as his own. Face facts as I have, ladies and gentlemen: R. Kelly might be coming to the end of his reign, but today he backpedaled a step and managed to churn out a couple of decent hits. Hopefully when it is all finally said and done, he has the good graces to bow out appropriately as the gentleman he once was, and now strives to be again.
We do not need this Romeo seeking love on VH1 reality television afterward, or we may well face riots and globally-depleted intelligence quotients.