While there is little food to physical eat, Kelis’ sixth studio album makes you hungry for more
Kelis • Food • Ninja Tune • US Release Date: April 22, 2014
It’s not easy to be an oddball. Maybe oddball has a negative connotation, but personally, being somewhat of an oddity myself, I take it as a compliment. It means that you don’t conform like so many others do to respective things. For R&B singer Kelis, she certainly has never conformed to conventional R&B. That willingness to be different certainly made “Milkshake” and “Bossy” big-time statements and hits, even if it didn’t catapult the respective albums to a great degree of commercial success. Even now on album six, Food, Kelis finds herself on an indie-label after the majors just didn’t work out – not selling enough albums or fitting the mode of the ‘commercial artist’.
That said, being on Ninja Tune just might be the best thing for Kelis’ artistry as Food proves to be a superb album. With all the talk of the alternative R&B movement, it is easy to forget that ole girl has been ‘alt’ for a minute! She throws some excellent retro-soul into the mix on Food.
“Breakfast” opens appropriately, given the album’s title and natural chronology of eating events (LOL). Kelis’ raspy vocals are a perfect fit for the soulful palette established as “Breakfast” proceeds. It’s not the ‘second coming’ of soul by any means, but it is a sound starting point. The best line is “Maybe we will make it to breakfast” – aka meet me at the table, it’s goin’ down!
“Jerk Ribs” aren’t normally associated with ‘lunch’ (I think dinner), but perhaps Kelis is getting ahead of schedule – or something like that. Sporting an old-school sound and propelled by an addictive groove, “Jerk Ribs” is both sexy and soulful. I mean, Kelis consistently reiterates lyrics “So call on me, it feels just like it should” – Ooh la-la! That said, the paternal references are more important perhaps: “In Harlem, where I start to breathe / your beat was like a soundtrack to me / I was the girl, my daddy was the world / he played the notes and key/ he said to look for melody in everything.” So it’s not about sex, right?
“Forever Be” has the monumental task of following up juggernaut “Jerk Ribs”. Luckily the romance-filled “Forever Be” is a standout showing itself. “There will never be another / day for us to be, lovers,” sings Kelis infatuatedly on the chorus. “I’ll follow where you lead, together / and we’ll forever be.” Well written and thoughtful, relying on emotional as opposed to physical pleasure, “Forever Be” exemplifies the dying art of the ‘love’ song as opposed to the ‘sex’ song.
On the affectionate and impressive “Floyd” – which slows things down – Kelis “want(s) to be blown away.” In other words, Kelis wants to be swept right off her feet by ‘him’. Contributing to the seductiveness, the retro-soul cues continue in full employment, while Kelis coos in raspy glory. Another pro of “Floyd” is the use of space and stretching out the song across five minutes. Perhaps its lengthy, but letting it ‘ride out’ feels right in this instance.
“Runnin’” is a tad bit quicker than “Floyd”, but still lies on the ‘slow side’ of the metronome. Alluring, yet mysterious in typical Kelis fashion, “Runnin’” balances the sensibilities of the past with a touch of alt-R&B savvy. The key lines, posed as questions “How can I forget you? And “How could I reject you?” end up with answers including “you always right there in my rescue” and “you are my refuge”.
“Hooch” arrives right out of the soul book with its sick groove, prominence of accented horns, and sexy “ahs” courtesy of Kelis. Another fine and vital part of the buffet, dessert is still always better in my book (its arguable of course). But sticking with the dessert perspective of things, who wouldn’t rather have “Cobbler”? Hopefully it’s peach or blackberry, but Kelis doesn’t specify. However, she’s not too worried about eating of course…LOL. I mean she does say, “You’re the best I’ve ever done…”
“Bless the Telephone” only clocks in a two and a half-minutes, but sounds unlike anything else on Food. That is because it is more singer/songwriter-oriented number in an alt or indie sense. Ultimately, it is a nice change of pace, but perhaps it doesn’t make the ‘elite’ cuts list.
“Friday Fish Fry” has some mean sounding guitars, not to mention the pounding drums anchoring bass. While it’s still retro-soul, there is a natural bridge to rock music, which is a welcome ‘crossover’. Kelis’ rasp is at full force here, another pro. While it is incredibly tasty, much like the sweet “Cobbler”, Kelis could care less about getting her daily intake of Omega-3 on “Friday Fish Fry”. She wants something (“Give me what I want / give me what I need”), but it’s related to the bedroom…or the floor…or the couch… depending on personal preferences.
“Change” reinstates a touch of mysteriousness to Food, given the unique production cues. The harmonic quirks help to truly make this cut notable. Things grow even more epic when Kelis employs her full-throated vocals atop the excited arrangement. On “Rumble”, the relationship is rocky, but Kelis can’t get over him: “We got so much history / I hurt you, you hurt me / no we don’t need therapy / what I need is you” It’s a song/theme that has played out time and time again, but never grows old.
“Biscuits n’ Gravy” is definitely delicious – I recommend Dairy Queen’s personally – but again, the taste isn’t important. Really does the title have anything to do with the content? “Not everyone believes the story, as for me I love the truth / and ever since I was a young girl,” Kelis sings, “Witnessed evidence and proof.” Kelis is just trying to make us hungry for the material itself! To her credit, she does at least mention “morning” (“Been given the morning, every dawn brings thoughts of you / by this time tomorrow I’ll be brand new”).
Closer “Dreamer” eschews the buffet – well the ‘food’ one. Here, it’s all about dreams, DUH! Still, one dream Kelis references is pretty freaky, if you catch my drift: “But if all was left to me / we’d be naked climbing trees”. Well now! To each his/her own I suppose.
All said and done, Food may have little to do about three square meals a day, but it is a well-rounded album regardless. A tasteful balance of soul, love, and sexual endeavors make this album much more refined than many contemporary R&B of today. Additionally, Food is more refined than Kelis’ previous work, which is something in itself. Maybe it’s not quite a masterpiece or a classic, but this is easily one of the best albums of 2014, regardless of genre.
Favorites: “Jerk Ribs”; “Forever Be”; “Floyd”; “Cobbler”; “Change”; “Rumble”