Review Summary: 2007's funniest lyrics meet its blandest music in an all-out sex duel!
In recent years, it has become painfully obvious to anybody who's been paying attention that R. Kelly is 100%, inarguably, wonderfully batshit. The man is simply insane. We're talking Sun Ra, Michael Jackson, Karlheinz Stockhausen and George Clinton levels of genius-gone-mad here. And what's more, his life has become the world's most entertaining soap opera. He's still up for 14 charges of soliciting a minor for pornography, he made R&B's own Plan 9 From Outer Space
in Trapped In The Closet
, he's got assault charges pending, he unleashed a sprawling, epic religious double album, he's compared himself to Martin Luther King, and, in a genre of music mostly populated by two-dimensional, boring people, he's somehow become one of the most fascinating personalities in music, without really ever writing more than 3 songs.
Yes, it's hard to deny that R. Kelly really only has a maximum of three types of song. There's the sexually explicit, barely-concealed sex track ("Bump N'Grind", "Feelin' On Your Booty", "Your Body's Calling"), the bouncy, smooth club track ("Ignition", "She's Got That Vibe", "Fiesta"), and the schmaltzy, sincere message of love and/or hope ("I Wish", "I Believe I Can Fly", "The Storm Is Over Now"). The first two get a lot of airtime here, with only "Rise Up" and "Havin' a Baby" showing Kelly's serious side. That bias makes for a somewhat confusing album that both plays to R. Kelly's strengths and weaknesses, highlighting both to such an extent that you're left wondering how this album doesn't end being either brilliant or terrible.
The story of the music (nearly all written and produced by R. Kelly himself) is that, with the exception of "The Champ" and "Get Dirty", it's fairly neutered stuff. It's melodic and basically pleasant stuff, but over 18 tracks it's just too much of nothing. Even the vaguely epic "Rock Star", which boasts a buttload of distorted guitar that I assume is courtesy of Kid Rock, is oddly flat considering what it should
sound like. As far as guitars in hip-hop go, it's hardly "Sophisticated Bitch" or "Rock Box", or even "The Seed 2.0". But let's face it - if you discovered an appreciation for R. Kelly's music post-"Trapped In The Closet", you came here for the lyrics, and Kelly frequently delivers comedy gold. Even at his most sincere, such as on "Havin' a Baby", Kelly's new-found flair for telling a story and not wanting to leave out a single detail leads to the hilariously offensive line 'A little boy/a little girl/A little you/A little me/I doesn't matter girl/As long as it's healthy'. Can anybody name an earlier incitement to the abortion of a physically challenged foetus on any record not made my Anal Cunt? Answers on a postcard please. Outside of that, the man's new love for clunky extended metaphors gives rise to the borderline-disturbing "Sex Planet".
'I guarantee you'll like it, it'll take your breath away
Gonna get you so excited once I taste your Milky Way
So don't trip, I got a giant rocket
Glidin through, just hittin' your pocket
I'm about to take over and touch your soul
Once I enter into your black hole
Girl I promise this will be painless, painless
We'll take a trip to Planet Uranus, anus'
Ya know, just in case the 'anus' joke passed you by. R. Kelly also makes rocket noises here, just in case you hadn't realised that this whole song is just a really, really funny joke. See also "The Zoo", which twists his previous hit "Your Body's Calling" into something new, has Kelly claiming 'I'm a sexosaurus', AND has a chorus consisting of R. Kelly making monkey noises, and a coda of elephants. Genius. Total genius. Several of the tracks follow a vague concept of quite literally 'doubling up' in a romantic sense - on "Same Girl", he and Usher find they're dating the same girl; on "Double Up", he and Snoop trade witticisms about threesomes, and so on. You don't need me to explain the comic potential behind that. And there's "Real Talk", which has an a-capella section that takes a similarly pseudo-misogynist view of infidelity as parts of "Trapped In The Closet", and ends with the stunning assertion that 'the next time your as
s gets horny, go fu
ck one of your funky-as
s friends! Hell, you probably do that shi
t anyways!' What. The. Fu
And then he goes and blows his load early. "Rise Up", a mawkish, insulting tribute to V-Tech, and the cod-reggae of "I Like Love" (which is preceeded by a speech about reggae that attempts to defend the song - Kelly, you're admitting it's crap up front, man!) are both seriously terrible.
I still feel like R. Kelly, in this incarnation, has got a cult classic album left in him (if nothing else, Trapped in The Closet
is ALREADY a cult classic, and that's bound to become a full album sooner or later). But this isn't it. I'm well aware that what I've written already makes Double Up
sound like a massively entertaining album, but it's not. Ultimately, it's too boring, too lifeless, for large chunks. It speaks volumes of R. Kelly's ability and personality that he elevates much of what's here, because the likes of "The Zoo", "Real Talk", "Same Girl", and "Sweet Tooth" would basically be unlistenable in the hands of any of his contemporaries, and it's telling that he outshines every one of his guests (curiously, the exception to this is the synth-heavy crunkalicious "Get Dirty", where Chamillionaire is Kelly's equal only because he's apparently toning down his madness for the club). There's a lot to enjoy here - or at least, a lot to laugh at - but it's too sporadic. Get this man a producer and some hard beats - hell, just give the whole album to Swizz Beatz - and then we'll talk.