Decision-making is a crucial part of any artist’s talents; no matter how brilliant they are at the others, making the wrong decision at an important time can be fatal. R. Kelly has made some pretty awful decisions in his career, but Write Me Back represents one of his best.
After years of albums that combined egotism, insanity and creepy perviness, Kelly revived his critical fortunes with the wonderful soul album Love Letter in 2010. He cut out the sex songs and the tales of closets and midgets and just focused on using his undoubted talents to make a really good album, and the results were hugely impressive.
However, he soon announced that he was going to follow it up with an album called Black Panties, which would see him trying to replicate the sex-obsessed success of 12 Play, an approach that frankly hasn’t served him well so far. Thankfully, he made the wise decision to leave his Panties in the drawer for now (it is now due to come out next year) and make a virtual sequel to Love Letter.
Unsubtly-titled Write Me Back, it’s another collection of smooth soul songs that showcase his vocals and ability to do romance without heading straight for the bedroom (or kitchen, or wherever he wants to get it on). Again, it’s influenced by some of the great soul singers and groups of the 70s, not least the Spinners on tracks like Love Is and the great Lady Sunday.
His old mate Jay-Z makes an appearance (slightly redundantly) on Believe That It’s So, while All Rounds On Me sees him cast as an old-school smooth rock ‘n’ roll crooner, a bit like Chris Isaak almost. And he pulls it off, too. He’s on more comfortable ground on stuff like Believe In Me, where he can wheel out his impassioned cry and wrap it around a catchy chorus and some great production.
It’s easy to see Clipped Wings as a kind of sequel to I Believe I Can Fly, whether it was intended that way or not, and it’s certainly a more satisfying, less syrupy tune, while When A Man Lies is one of the best songs R. Kelly has released in his career. It’s got fantastic strings-and-organ production that Thom Bell would have been proud of, while the chorus soars in exactly the right way.
The whole feeling of Write Me Back is ‘why doesn’t he always do it like this?’ and I say that as someone with a soft spot for some of his dafter/raunchier material. R. Kelly has got the potential in him to be one of the great soul singers of our age, but only if he chooses to be. If he’d rather try and be hip-hop or play up to his deviant public image, then that’s his decision to make. But he’d be wise to remember just how good his last two albums have been.
If any band was set up to escape the post-Nu Metal fall-out, it was Linkin Park, so it's no surprise to see them still making relevant music 12 years after their debut, and Living Things works well as a consolidation of everything they have done so far in their career.