With his well-worn shtick, convoluted story-songs, irrepressible horniness, groan-inducing sexual metaphors, and overheated come-ons, R. Kelly never seems more than a few degrees away from self-parody. Thankfully, he does some of his best work at that edge, from irresistible singles like "You Remind Me Of Something" and "Ignition Remix" to the outsized self-pity of "Heaven I Need A Hug." So it shouldn't come as a surprise that his new TP.3 Reloaded initially seems like a rote exercise in self-parody, then a delightful romp in self-parody, then finally something in between.
As befits a performer whose utter shamelessness and desperate eagerness to please makes him seem like the world's most successful wedding singer, TP.3 Reloaded kicks off with a track ("Playa's Only") offering something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Familiar elements include the R. Kelly Cristal-spilling party jam and yet another vaguely Eastern-sounding Scott Storch snake-charmer beat. As for the new, there's special guest The Game, who also provides the borrowed portion—his flow, a carbon copy of his star-making "How We Do" turn—and the blue part, in his ultra-gentlemanly admonition to "throw the pussy like Elway." On the next track, Kelly takes a sonic pleasure trip to the West Coast with a breezy hot-weather cruising song ("Happy Summertime"), complete with retro "Ain't No Fun" G-funk synthesizers. Guest Snoop Dogg returns the favor by shouting out Millennium Park and Lake Shore Drive from Kelly's Chicago hometown. Kelly long ago made clear his desire to have the world's greatest sex, a phrase that reappears on "Touchin." On TP.3, he makes equally apparent his desire to have the world's most sex. Sex-obsessed even for an R. Kelly album—and that's saying something—TP.3 advocates fornication "even when we're sleeping," not to mention fucking in the kitchen, which seems impractical, not to mention unhygienic.
But the album's first 14 tracks, a salaciously hit-or-miss assemblage of monomaniacal sex songs, seem like a mere prelude to the album's real attraction, the nearly 20-minute-long suite "Trapped In The Closet," which qualifies as Kelly's magnum opus of madcap musical melodrama. Blurring, though not quite eliminating, the line between pop opera and soap opera, "Closet" documents a hilariously complicated sexual scenario with more twists and turns than a season of Days Of Our Lives, complete with infidelity upon infidelity, a cheatin' gay pastor, and not one but two men stuck in the closet, one literally and one figuratively. To give away more would be to spoil the fun, especially since TP.3 contains a bonus DVD with a wonderfully literal-minded long-form video documenting the romantic histrionics. Though not terribly compelling sonically, the five-part opus qualifies as a supreme guilty pleasure. Too bad the rest of Kelly's intermittently fun but uneven new album doesn't match its epic grandeur and historic cheesiness.