As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” On his fourth album Promise To Love – subtitled ‘Album IV’ – Kem makes few changes to his formula. Four albums in, the adult contemporary R&B singer is as refined and classy as always, yet also predictable.
Perhaps characterizing Promise To Love as predictable sounds harsh, but four albums in, Kem definitely has revealed his cards. The traditional approach is definitely a pro when R&B is incredibly hypersexual and ‘impure,’ but listening to Promise To Love, switching up the formula wouldn’t have hurt Kem.
“Saving My Love For You” establishes the tone, or better yet, confirms the expected script. It’s a solid opening statement, though not necessarily a memorable tour de force. Still, the message is one of thoughtfulness and prudence; that can’t be denied.
Title track “Promise To Love” is a stronger, more distinctive statement. Liken it to Kem flexing his biceps; the musician contrasts his smoother, restrained pipes to show off his overt, powerful voice. Hearkening back to the 80s or early 90s, “Promise To Love” still allures regardless of its old school sensibilities.
Something definitely stands out about “Downtown” besides the song itself – Snoop Dogg provides the assist. While rap and R&B mix all the time these days, Kem hasn’t been part of that movement throughout his career. If the listener is looking for more flexibility or versatility from Kem, just the sheer appearance of Snoop should raise eyebrows. That said, Snoop isn’t the hottest rapper any more, so Kem’s move is very much a ‘chess’ move. Regardless, “Downtown” is sexy without breaking a sweat – poised.
“Beautiful World” returns Kem to more thoughtful fare following the slight character shift of “Downtown.” “Beautiful World” is indeed ‘beautiful’ itself, though not exactly characterized as a ‘ball of fun.’ “Do What You Gotta Do” smartly is more groove-oriented. “Do What You Gotta Do,” like “Downtown” is sexy, without crossing any lines. Sure, things are implied and lines can be read in between, but ultimately, Kem comes off as ‘angelic’ in current urban music circles.
“Say Something Real” again isn’t starkly different from Kem’s previous work, but there are subtle contrasts. If nothing more, “Say Something Real” is one of the better moments from Promise To Love. ‘Course, “My Favorite Thing” isn’t too shabby either, but it literally is one-year old. “My Favorite Thing” is reprised from Ronald Isley’s 2013 album, This Song Is For You. It’s no “I Can’t Stop Loving You” or “Why Would You Stay,” but it’s sound.
“It’s You” runs a bit long at five and a half minutes, but the chivalry is welcome and greatly appreciated. Vocally, as always, Kem remains top-notch. And, there ain’t no shame in the “shoo be doo doo” from the backing vocals!
“The Soft Side of Love” isn’t too shabby, but “Nobody” is better rounded, again showing Kem’s more pronounced vocals. Sure, the soft side of the singer is greatly appreciated, but the grit of his full-bodied vocals contrasts nearly, if not everybody else on the R&B scene. “Pray For Me” appropriate concludes the standard edition of the album, but can’t supplant previous cut “Nobody,” which is a definite highlight.
All in all, Promise To Love is another solid and pleasant release from Kem. There is no argument against the fact that Kem makes fine albums. That said, Promise To Love lacks the grandeur of 2010’s Intimacy, which could be considered the musician’s best. Even looking back to Album II, which was more old school than this one, Promise To Love follows some sensational work. His best or most memorable it’s not, but Promise To Love is by all means signature Kem.
Favorites: “Promise To Love,” “Downtown,” “Say Something Real,” and “Nobody”
Photo Credits: © Motown, Instagram / musicbykem