1995 saw the release of Robert Kelly’s 2nd solo studio album and the follow up to the successful “12 Play” which had catapulted Kelly into the mainstream with his overtly sexual lyrics on tracks such as “Bump n’ Grind” and “Sex Me”.
I used to listen to this album with regularity when I was at University (over a decade after it’s release) and there are a few tracks on here that I think are so fantastic. They do get a little lost in a bloated album but I still believe some of R.Kelly’s best work is on here if you can sift through this weighty set.
The focus on the sexual lyrics was obviously on his mind as he went into this project as he addresses them on numerous occasions and the switch to religious themes is akin to greats such as Prince and Marvin Gaye.
“The Sermon” opens the album up and is essentially Kelly acting as if he is in church giving this sermon to the people as he defends his lyrics and musical themes but explaining that he is just trying to make his way in the industry. Kelly uses a deeper vocal which he does at certain points on the album.
“Hump Bounce” and “Not Gonna Hold On” are straight up 90’s R&B grooves where Kelly simply owns. There was no one in the 90’s who could flow over a track with such ease as Kelly. Both these songs I think are fantastic and sounds great today.
“You Remind Me Of Something” is one of those songs that could quickly turn into someones idea of a joke with lyrics such as “You remind me of my jeep, I wanna ride it”.
Its one massive metaphorical song which is going to be love or hate but I am in the former and love kicking back and bellowing out the words to this one.
“Step In My Room” takes a step back to the previous album and would have slid nicely on to 12 play. Melodically Kelly nails it and his voice is just velvety and rich as he pushes the soulfulness that sometimes he lack in his music.
“Baby Baby Baby Baby” perhaps was one of those songs that could have been left out off what is a bit of a bloated album (as I think any album with 16 will be). The first minute of this track is solid but it dies soon after and its one of those skip songs.
And this really is the issue with this album because whilst there are some high points where Kelly is pushing the boundaries of R&B music fused with a Hip Hop sensibilites the whole thing is a bit of a slog because of it’s length and unwavering change of tone.
The 7th track “(You To Be) Be Happy” is a more interesting track with R.Kelly being joined by The Notorious BIG and it is his verse which steals the show although once he has finished the song really fails to reignite and the thin instrumentation of mainly a baseline just fails to really keep things going.
“Down Low (Nobody Has To Know)” is one of the best songs on the entire album because R.Kelly is top of his game at overly dramatic soulful ballads and when joined by the backing vocal sounds of Ron Isley from the utterly superb Isley Brothers this track gives the album a much needed R&B anthem.
The theme on this song plays to Kelly’s strengths as the murkier side of relationships is where his lyrics whilst not what you would consider morally acceptable are at least a different take on how people get themselves into situations. In this case Kelly’s character is having an affair with a woman but they know they must keep it quiet or there could be retribution that would be bad for both.
“I Can’t Sleep (If I)” is another example of how easiliy R.Kelly can come up with a generic R&B song with a theme of love and yearning. The problem is if you have listened to the previous two R Kelly albums (Born Into The 90’s and 12 Play) he has already done this type of thing to death. It’s a nice song, its pretty and on it’s own taken in isolation there is nothing wrong with it but when you have already been served up so many similar sounding tracks it gets loss in the fog.
The much needed dancier number finally arrives with the 10th track “Thank God It’s Friday”. I absolutely love this song and have done for a very long time. It is probably the most underrated R.Kelly song of all time as has criminally been forgotten about despite it’s being a real 90’s R&B banger.
I love the groove on this track and Kelly uses the deeper range of his vocal to make it sound as if someone else is actually singing it.
“Love Is On The Way” moves us back into mid tempo R&B fare where Kelly is telling a girl that he will give her what she needs and love is on the way although it doesn’t feel as though love is what Kelly is talking about in this situation.
“Heaven If You Hear Me” is a 57 second interlude with Kelly dropping the sex mad act and moving back into a spiritual moment which does seem so very odd as he wails his heart out.
This moves us into “Religious Love” which is arguably my favourite song on the album.
You will need to suspend your memories of all the rauncier stuff you have heard on this album and the previous set too. When Kelly just sings from the heart this gut wrenching ballad shows how well he can sing and also that this songwriting (whilst bordering on the saccharine) is strong.
The lyrics appear to be about a loved one he has lost yet he continues to pray for their return and is convinced they are out there somewhere.
I love this track and used to sing my heart out to it back in my university days.
“Tempo Slow” is another love making slow jam which of course is Kelly’s main territory.
Sounding like an discarded cut from either of his first couple of albums the theme is about sex and if you are not in the moment the lyrics are from the book of cringe.
“As I Look Into My Life” is an acapella track standing at 01.37m. It’s a prelude to the final track and moves us back into a spiritual moment which after “Tempo Slow” seems as though he is taking the piss little as Kelly finds it difficult to work out if he wishes to respect a woman or fuck her silly.
The album ends with “Trade In My Life” which I think is one of the greatest R&B songs mixed with gospel that I have ever heard.
I love this song. It is utterly divine and the way R.Kelly delivers this track is why he for so long was the king of R&B. A song full of heart and soul as he pours his heart out with the line that he would trade in his life for this person.
For all the old school R&B and soul heads reading this I urge you to go check this song out because it is a missed classic. It gives me chills every time I hear that choir come in.
It’s not a perfect album by any means but there are some superb songs on here if you can stand to sit through the entire thing but I do appreciate that 1 hour 2 minutes this album is far too long and doesn’t need to be.
Still, it reminds me of a time and i’ll happily kick back and listen to “Thank God It’s Friday” and “Trade In My Life”.