While R. Kelly may still be trying to live down some erroneous decisions from his past, there’s never been any doubt that the man can sing. On Write Me Back, his voice still sounds as vibrant as it did in the days before he was a constant headline on TMZ, but unfortunately his once lauded production skills seem to have vanished much like the $4.85 million he owes in back taxes.
On the opening cut “Love Is,” Kelly admirably tries to resurrect the pop-soul of a prime Barry White, but instead comes off sounding like a washed up Tom Jones performing at a Reno dinner-club. This is largely due to the horribly crafted digital instrumentation on the track – I’m pretty sure he just hit the demo button on his ’92 Casio keyboard for this one. At least you can appreciate his new found appreciation for monogamy and true love on the song. Well, at least until the next cut: “Feelin’ Single.” But hey, what’s an R. Kelly album without some carnal dichotomy, right?
The biggest flaw with Write Me Back though, is Mr. Kelly’s attempt to make a ‘timeless’ album rather than something that sounds fresh and from today. Horrific synthesizers scream for a home on adult-contemporary radio, and make a majority of these tunes stray far from the seductive vibe which the lyrics imply. “Believe That It’s So” builds upon the samba beat from a nursing-home organ, and is shockingly mundane enough that most listeners will never make it to the sexy breakdown on the song’s second half. Which is thus to say that there are great moments on this record, but for the most part they are just that – moments.
The only cut that holds the whole way through is “Fool For You,” a piano-driven track that finds Kelly showing his true potential of sounding like a modern Smokey Robinson. If he was smart, and if he cared about the reputation of quality R&B music the world over, he would stick to this traditional formula. Then none of us would ever need to be subjected again to the terror known as “Party Jumpin’.” Easily the lowest point of his career, the track is either a reject from the new Buster Poindexter album or Kelly’s theme-song for a new alcohol-fueled America’s Funniest Home Videos. Either way, with production this horrendous, I think it’s about time he called in Danger Mouse to the rescue.