#tbt Listen Up: Flesh Tone by Kelis

Today’s Throwback Thursday (#tbt) piece is a review on Kelis’ Flesh Tone, originally published July 23, 2010

kelis-fleshtone-cover1Kelis’ newest venture as a musical confidante with the backdrop of glamorous, demanding dance beats has made her album Flesh Tone the ultimate escape recording of the year. Though her most known hit remains the seductively smothering heat of the Neptunes produced “Milkshake”, the fashionably erratic personality of Kelis shines within her new home of dance, maybe finally allowing her to be showcased as the original provocateur that made some really great songs that were otherwise ignored in the 2000s. Flesh Tone is chock full of production done by some of the biggest superstars right now of the dancefloor and European club kids including Jean Baptiste, David Guetta, Boyz Noise, Free School, and Benny Benassi. They’ve all taken a liking to Kelis’ throaty yet nubile voice that gracefully counteracts the booming music, helping her succeed in a genre that appreciates her more than contemporary R&B.

As a co-writer of all nine tracks, Kelis barely lets listeners in on the disparaging details of her crumbled marriage to Nas that ended in divorce, but resulted in the birth of a son, Knight. The album occludes the unhappiness, and instead is a surprising optimistic outlook on love and life, as the girl who used to bring the boys to the yard prefers they now just follow her hopeful trail of living life to the fullest and counting the blessings that really matter. The first single “Acapella” was written with her newborn Knight as the muse. Knight inspired a uniquely constructed account of his arrival, as the chorus his mother sings is one of the most amorous of these conflicting times with a riveting shake : “Before you…my whole life was acapella. Now a symphony is the only song to sing. Before you…my whole life was acapella…”

From the beginning to end, Flesh Tone is a sublime accomplishment. Kelis has always made worthy albums since 1999’s Kaleidoscope, yet there is something about her latest that feels sagacious allowing every song to segue way into each other without disruption. Kelis hasn’t sounded this free since 1999, or least her single “Lil’ Star”. She’s having fun in her exploratory mode as a new dance queen and the music completely reflects its wholeheartedly, like with the liberty and justice for all jam “Emancipate” in which she repeats the word so many times, it starts to burn a welcomed place into your brain. Kelis doesn’t sound like she trying to trick us into thinking of something she’s not, as with the right people behind her providing these house music musings, and her son as the ultimate pick-me-up; by naming the album Flesh Tone, we’re being exposed to not the real Kelis–because the risk-taker she is has always been there–but to the one that knows how to get the the party started with the most convincing of tunes and affectionate lyrics so that every party has a sense of purpose.

With her previous albums behind her, be ready to really get to know who Kelis is, as the producers on Flesh Tone don’t try to impose their characteristics on her, they embrace the woman of the show, unlike most past collaborators. She’ll likely get no Grammy nominations for this electrifying album, because she’s a bigger star overseas than she is in America, but let it be known: Flesh Tone is a contender for a spot in the top ten albums of 2010…not to mention let’s all give a shout out to Knight.

THE BEST: “Intro”, “22nd Century”, “Home”, Acapella”, “Scream”, Brave”, “Song for Baby”
–C. Shardae Jobson (@lavishrebellion)

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