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Kelis, ‘Food’ [ALBUM REVIEW]

Ninja Tune

‘Food,’ Kelis’ sixth studio album, finds the singer in a space people don’t associate her with: backed by a live band. You won’t hear the dance affair that was her 2010 album, ‘Flesh Tone’ (released on will.i.am’s record label), or the ‘Milkshake’ anthems of her past here. ‘Jerk Ribs,’ the horn-filled lead single on the album, is a good indication of what ‘Food’ serves Kelis fans.

As R&B’s original alternative go-to gal (sorry, Rihanna), Kelis mixed rock guitars with Andre 3000 (‘Millionaire’) and Raphael Saadiq (‘Glow’) collaborations on her third album, ‘Tasty.’ For her fifth LP, the chanteuse confidently delivered ’70’s soul and funk-inspired tracks. On ‘Food,’ the fact she’s mixing genres, even exploring them fully, isn’t the surprise. It’s the pace, which is extremely calm. However, some might call it a snooze, but ‘Food’ is sweet, positive and love-bathed. It’s easy to follow.

‘Food’ is disparate considering Kelis came charging towards us screaming, “I hate you so much right now,” on her 1999 debut single, ‘Caught Out There.’ The song was featured on her Neptunes-produced first album, ‘Kaleidoscope,’ which still stands as one of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo’s best works — even with Pharrell’s extensive catalog. Still, Kelis’ debut underperformed and her sophomore project, ‘Wanderland,’ didn’t even earn a release on U.S. soil. By the time 2003’s ‘Tasty’ came along and ‘Milkshake’ became an unexpected Top 10 hit, the Harlem, N.Y.-bred singer’s futuristic sound and affiliation with the Neptunes began to wane.

Watch Kelis’ ‘Jerk Ribs’ Video

Enlisting the help of producer Dave Sitek (of the alternative rock band TV on the Radio) for ‘Food’ seems to have revved up Kelis’ artistic muscle. She sounds comfortable and proficient on her sixth studio album. This is most noticeable on ‘Friday Fish Fry.’ Dave’s soft-rock production allows Kelis to dispense ultra raspy vocals coupled with catch phrases that she delivers well. She’s working her voice in ways she hasn’t in the past.

‘Floyd’ and ‘Bless the Telephone’ find the singer comfortably riding slow rhythms, which highlight the album’s overall charm. Specifically in the latter, backed by an acoustic guitar, she coos, “Strange how a phone call can change a day / Take you away, away from the feeling of being alone.”

Six songs — almost half of the album — revolve around the theme of food. This subject matter was inevitable considering Kelis graduated from the prestigious culinary school Le Cordon Bleu. The promo tour for the album included a food truck at Coachella, in which the singer both cooked and served the fare she created. Serving food to others is a rather vulnerable moment for Kelis and the album isn’t any different; it’s the entire crux of the project.

On ‘Fish Fry,’ she begs her man; on the kick-drum filled ‘Breakfast,’ she’s hopeful a relationship will make it past dawn; and on ‘Hooch,’ she reminisces of youthful recklessness stemmed from cheap whiskey, all while strapped with sultry “oohs” and a slow winding horn section. As it turns out, the songs were named on a whim.

Kelis is finding her way back into the R&B lane she initially paved in 1999. The songstress hasn’t lost the art of melding genres and has even brought her love of culinary arts to the table to be digested along with her music. ‘Food’ enters fun and effortless territory with its funk, blues and soft-rock mix coupled with Kelis’ salient melodies. In a musical landscape that celebrates nonconformity and bashes the mundane, ‘Food’ satisfies.

Watch Kelis Perform ‘Fish Fry’

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