The last few years Kelis has been in the headlines for many things besides music. A high profile marriage, the birth of a child, a PR battle with PETA and most recently, a high profile divorce. In many ways it is the sign of the times, when only a few short years ago she was the sexy songstress that toed a line of seduction, creativity, and freakiness better than all of her peers. With the spotlight on her personal life slowly waning, she steps back into the public with what gave her fame to begin with, music. Signed to will.i.am’s record label, the Black Eyed Peas influence on her latest, Flesh Tone, is apparent from the jump.
From the very second first second of the album, Kelis thrusts herself into the dance club and does her best to make you move until the album ends. Her seductive voice is mashed with high intensity, thumping bass lines and techno synths. Even the sassiness that made “Milkshake” such a memorable cut, is missing. Instead, she is determined to get people on the dance floor and takes a very Euro-sounding approach to do so. It’s something she accomplishes, but unfortunately it comes at the expense of some of the traits that made her great.
Flesh Tone has a distinct Euro Disco feel. Maybe the singer has the right idea, gearing the release towards a global market that is much friendlier towards club music. With the unbelievable success of the Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Lady Gaga, Kelis follows suit. With a firm grasp on trance and swelling synths, Kelis sounds natural over the production, to the point where it is easy to forget that she sung “Bossy” not to long ago. Lyrically, she strays from her sassy persona and brings forth-polished mature efforts like “Acapella” and “Fireworks.” The former hears the singer signing a chorus of, “Before you, my whole life was acapella / Now a symphony’s the only song to sing.” It’s simple but effective songwriting that highlights a song that has already made waves on the UK charts.
For those who open the record thinking they may hear the singer open up about her celebrity relationship, think again. Only “Brave” or “Intro” even hints at the relationship. Instead, she focuses on an album that plays like a Olivia Newton-John Disco aerobic workout on the theme of birth and rebirth. That theme plays out in Flesh Tone in both sound and content. And though well executed, that theme is also the projects biggest flaw. The album ventures away from the Hip Hop and R&B influences that made her famous. In many ways the amped up Euro club music takes away from unique voice. It’s present at times, but unfortunately the production often overwhelms the distinct quality that her voice possesses. Though the music is contagious and has Pop radio written all over it, it also lacks the appeal that Kelis Was Here had. The diva persona gets lost on Flesh Tone. The bossiness that made her famous and made her music stand out is unfortunately absent.
Kelis is and always has been a beacon of creativity. On Flesh Tone her creativity is influenced by the radio around her. Unlike previous albums she isn’t driving her music’s genre forward, instead it feels a bit more like abandonment. It’s easy to see the evolution that Flesh Tone could have in Kelis’s career but unfortunately she isn’t able to blend her past and present styles effectively. Kelis surely still has a unique voice and it will be heard, but one has to wonder if her audience will shift drastically after Flesh Tone. For her sake, let’s hope the world feels stronger about this album than the audience that built her.