Having already rolled rape and child pornography charges off his
sultry, sexy back, as well as survive the always risky double album
(1998’s R.), R.Kelly tries something even more daring
— packaging two separate albums, unrelated in subject matter
or style — into one release.
Happy People is all about giddy, jumpy love. Women,
parties and his boys get affectionate jams in the mood of
Chocolate Factory’s “Step In The Name of
Love.” The first disc lacks any of the thrusting, sweaty sex
songs of his previous work like “Bump N’ Grind”
or the oft-overlooked “Feelin’ On Yo Booty.”
It’s all family-friendly material here. You won’t even
catch him mentioning specific body parts on “Ladies’
Night (Treat Her Like Heaven).” It’s about as dry as a
mixer in the old-folks home.
If Happy People is the saccharine, Saturday-night joy of
the club, U Saved Me is the earnest Sunday morning prayer.
The side opens with Robert locked in a feverous three-way phone
call with his “sister” and “prayer partner”
(Kelly Price and gospel star Kim Burrell, respectively), singing
back and forth on the topic of Jesus’s eternal love and if
R.Kelly falls within the Lord’s good graces. Not
surprisingly, the women believe he does and Robert finds peace.
Kelly spends the rest of his time giving thanks to God for guidance
through never-explicitly named troubles.
Even though it is more monotonous, it’s harder to rag on
U Saved Me than Happy People. The intersections of
art and religion have recently taken too many beatings. For every
Sufjan Stevens there’s been a Mel Gibson. Kelly tried his
best to make his personal love for Jesus fly but it just
R.Kelly’s fatal slip is the attempt to separate these two
parts of the soul molecule. He drains the heat from sex, women and
the church because all these parts need each other to function.
Soul flourishes because the music is the intersection of love of
sex and love of spirit. Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Al Green and
Nina Simone have been trying to reconcile the head, the heart and
the crotch for decades. There is no denying R.Kelly is a genius
(writer, composer, singer, producer) and perhaps the only R&B
singer in America capable of finding sublime love, passion and
earthy sex in everything around him. He may have tried to bring
himself together (Church + redemption + women + good times =
R.Kelly), but by disintegrating the essence of soul music, he tears