R. Kelly Double Up

[Jive; 2007]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: R&B, vaguely pedophilic, up-in-the-club-type shit
Others: John Legend, Cody Chesnutt, D’Angelo, latter-day Woody Allen

R. Kelly is fucking horny. He’s also perversely talented at expressing his horniness in songs that, be they club anthems or baby-making background noise, inevitably plant themselves firmly atop the charts and in the collective cultural subconscious. While many a cut-rate lothario has burrowed his way into America’s hearts and panties, none seem to do so with the same utter lack of self-awareness as Kells. It’s a simultaneously endearing and unnerving quality. His 2005 mini-opus Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 1-12, for example, offers boundless guilty pleasures until a surreal commentary track (which features a clueless Kelly marveling at his own storytelling bravado) that suggests his favored auteurs might be Candace Bushnell and Larry Flynt.

But what’s wrong with a little, well, a lot of brazen honesty, especially where matters of the heart and genitalia are concerned? If anything, it helps break down the barrier of self-righteous snarkiness we use to shield ourselves from such genuine outpourings of emotion, especially ones from an artist with as sordid a personal history as Kelly. Like a philandering lover on his knees with the same pitiful excuse, though, we take him back because, aw, come on baby, Kells was just foolin’ with them underage girls, and he really loves us.

Trouble is, the act is starting to wear a bit thin. How much longer can Kelly, now 40, stay up in the club before he crosses the thin line from ass-crazed nymphomaniac to old and irrelevant ass-crazed nymphomaniac? A Midnite Vultures-esque reinvention would do wonders in making him something close to culturally germane instead of the circus side-show he’s recently been, but if Double Up is any indication, no renaissance is in the works.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that R. Kelly has never met a sexual pun he didn’t like or one that he didn’t want to grind with on the dance-floor, feed Patrón to, and videotape being micturated upon. The more conventional R&B tracks abound with lame come-ons and questionably dated pop-culture references (“Girl I got you so wet, it’s like a rainforest/ Like Jurassic Park except I’m your Sexasaurus”), but are delivered with such silky conviction that they’re hard to resist. Kelly’s always been a bit of an underrated crooner, but it’s the Cristal-poppin’ club tracks that reek of put-upon opportunism. From mailed-in Kanye (on the title track) to mind-boggling guest spots (seriously, who knew Kid Rock was still alive?), the better part of Double Up is a real slog to get through. A little (intentional) humor would go a long way toward livening up the proceedings on both ends, but Kelly seems content to keep us laughing at him, not with him.

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