“I’m like the sun, I’m tryin’ to shine on everybody,” says R. Kelly during the opening of “Heaven I Need a Hug,” his song of despair. Did he mean “shine” or “urinate?” Please pardon the cynicism, however, his latest album, Chocolate Factory, is difficult to regard as a serious work given the legal problems and material evidence that have haunted Kelly since last year.

Todd Weiser

Precisely, it is not that he made the album which seems disingenuous, but rather, it’s the record’s content. Throughout most of the LP, Kelly sings about pristine love, his appreciation of women and his desire to beautifully copulate. The topics are standard for Kelly and most male R&B singers, however he no longer sounds like a credible source, his theoretically pure intentions and loving desires tempered (if not completely obliterated) by his alleged real-life transgressions.

If one ignores those perhaps-real misdeeds when listening to Robert’s message of love and passion, he or she will hear music that is mostly stale, for Chocolate Factory sounds a great deal like his previous works, notably TP-2.Com and R. Yet, what redeems this record, in part, is that Kelly remains unparalleled in his ability to spruce up standard R&B with his genuinely soulful voice. Furthermore, there are a few more daring tracks, like the remix of “Step in the Name of Love.” These help illustrate that the musical mind that heard a chorus and orchestra for “I Believe I Can Fly” (in retrospect, it wasn’t good that he was hanging out with kids while making that song) remains, though it seems preoccupied.

Other notable tracks on the record include the remix for “Ignition,” a pop hit, and the record’s title track. The latter is repetitive – Kelly now consistently uses a mid-tempo, energetic track to open his records – but the formula remains successful, unlike most of the other retread tracks. Also worthy of note, though for the wrong reasons, is the annoying “Been Around the World,” a duet with Ja Rule that challenges listeners to discern who is regularly a singer while Ja intones his signature raspy grunts for much of the song.

R. Kelly has always been able to say things like “I’m gonna take my key and stick it in your ignition,” – as he does on this album – while maintaining the veneer of a soulful lover interested in some bumpin’ and grindin’, yet mostly looking for true love. He may have lost that ability and this album’s trite lyrics and unimaginative beats condemn it to mediocrity.

Rating: 2 Stars.

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