The prolific Chicago-based singer/songwriter/producer R. Kelly gets ambitious and takes some risks with his 13th album, The Buffet.
The record title refers to the style hopping Kelly indulges in this time around. As well as his usual take on R&B, he works in some hip hop, neo soul sounds, blues-rock and some country. Say what?
The Buffet gets off to a misleading start with the humorously lewd pseudo rap, The Poem. There’s no sublety there but it’s R.Kelly, so whatever.
Poetic Sex continues the food metaphors but tones down the obvious references for two tracks, Anything Goes featuring Ty Dolla $ign, and the mellow Let’s Make Some Noise, with Jhene Aiko. Kelly’s wordplay and humour are muted but seem to be more potent as a result.
As the record moves through its R&B and hip hop paces, Kelly remains static on the tempos. The album doesn’t live up to the promise of its title until Wanna Be There, a confessional song that Kelly sings with his daughter, Ariiraye. It’s an honest, literal performance that both singers dig deeply into.
After that, The Buffet gets more imaginative and fun. The enjoyment comes from hearing Kelly adjust his delivery to shift the context of the songs as they roll by.
All My Fault is ‘70s’ style disco/R&B (complete with modulations and hopeful lyrics). The songs get stronger and more focussed. Wake Up Everybody continues the earlier noise theme and lush Nixon-era soul sounds inform Get Out of Here With Me.
The album is really two records in one. The first half is murky and ambient tracks with guests that mix metaphors with food, noise and sex. The remaining section is the best part in which Kelly throws in his songwriter/producer skills to get down and give up some smooth singing against some classic soul/R&B/hip hop songs that take their cues from different eras.
The deluxe version introduces new characters into the mix. I Just Want to Thank You is a track that should’ve been listed much earlier, maybe in the second or third selection. The song is a Chicago sing-song style that resembles the West African high life sound. Sufferin’ is good-time blues rock that’s easygoing but skillfully executed. And everybody’s going country so why not Kelly? He’s got the chops and taps into the cliché and angst like a pro. It’s formula and he knows it.
The Buffet is an amusing and impressive shape shifter of an album – Kelly gets to play with different ideas and work them into songs that have integrity.