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R. Kelly: Chocolate Factory


R. Kelly

Album: Chocolate Factory
Label: Jive

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Is it possible to listen to a double-disc, 100-minute treatise on sex from a man accused of sleeping with adolescent girls, and not be disgusted? That's the central question behind Chocolate Factory, R. Kelly's first album since widely publicized child-pornography allegations threatened his standing both as a free man and as one of pop's biggest stars. Kelly already fired a volley back at his detractors in the form of "Heaven I Need A Hug," a remarkable state-of-R. Kelly address that ricochets from self-pity to anger to self-righteousness–among many other contradictory emotions and attitudes–over the course of a five-minute pop song. The prototypical R&B lover-man, Kelly has apparently never encountered a sentiment too trite or an expression of love too clichéd to be put to use. Chocolate Factory is filled with the sort of come-ons and honeyed promises that even cut-rate dive-bar lotharios would dismiss as hopelessly cheesy, but Kelly stitches them together with such craft and invests them with such conviction that they become a strange sort of pulp poetry. On Midnite Vultures, the ever-mutable Beck reinvented himself as a sort of Dada bizarro-world R. Kelly, but Beck could never do Kelly as well as Kelly does. Take "Ignition (Remix)," an early candidate for the year's guiltiest pleasure: Kelly promises "Cristal popping in a stretch Navigator / We got food everywhere, as if the party was catered" and marvels, "You must be a football coach, the way you got me playing the field." Kelly panders to his audience with each note, but the singer, songwriter, and producer matches his shamelessness with a gift for crafting melodies that burrow their way into listeners' subconscious with almost sadistic force. He's also an underrated traditional soul man: On "Dream Girl," "You Knock Me Out," "What Do I Do," and "Far More," he does retro-soul every bit as well as more critically fashionable acts like D'Angelo and Bilal. Anyone who buys Chocolate Factory out of morbid curiosity is bound to end up with a new sense of appreciation and respect for an underrated artist.