Getting old is tough. Whether it is the realisation that you’re not going to be an astronaut once you hit adolescence, or realising at that…
Getting old is tough. Whether it is the realisation that you’re not going to be an astronaut once you hit adolescence, or realising at that you’re no longer a teenager, these moments in life spark instants of introspection and often, nostalgia. How deeply one indulges often depends on how well you can get out and progress. On Kelis’ sixth studio album, her first in 4 years, it seems that she’s coming to terms with her place in the world, offering a vantage point into her own comprehension of life right now.
Kelis’ career path has been one of being ‘close‘ but ‘not quite‘, which is a shame. Looking at the lead singles off her first four albums one’s left with a collection of veritable bangers released way ahead of their time. The list includes ‘Caught Out There’, ‘Young, Fresh N’ New’, ‘Milkshake’ and perhaps to a lesser extent ‘Bossy’. This collection may not spark one’s memory immediately, but their ubiquity is apparent just a few bars into each track. Having released her debut Kaleidoscope in 1999, the release coincided with another female pop artist’s debut, Britney Spears. As such Kelis has had to play second fiddle in the world of female pop, the ‘alternative’ of the bunch whose there as a novelty. Perhaps this is what sparked her burning urge to diversify that lead to the EDM-abomination that was Flesh Tone. The album showed off Kelis scrapping all that made her unique in favour of mass appeal, jumping on the Will.i.am. faux-electro (read: commercial pop) bandwagon.
Food therefore seems to be a weighing up of the scales in response to this brilliant-turned-mediocre attempt to join bona fide pop stars of the past 10-15 years. The initial recording sessions of this album actually had Kelis citing Skream as a collaborator, as far back as 2011.The album was intended to be ‘trip-hoppish’ but was (thankfully) shelved after an apparent tiff with the Dubstep-maestro led to Kelis seeking the help of acclaimed producer, Dave Sitek.
As a member/producer of TV on the Radio and producer who has worked with bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Foals, the album is unashamedly retro and analogue in it’s feel. Sitek himself isn’t the biggest fan of what the new age of file sharing and technological advancement have necessarily done for the music industry. And thus it seems as if he’s the perfect fit – at least in this respect.
The opening single ‘Jerk Ribs’ is soulful and groovy as hell. The track features glossy guitars and a horn section that harks back to the golden era of 60s/70s American Soul and Funk. Another standout is ‘Runnin’. A slow burner that simmers like smoke on the water and plays to Kelis’ vocal ability with some effective vocal harmonies. There’s even something on the menu for the gossipmongers out there: ‘Rumble’ seems to be both a direct message to her ex-husband, Nas, as well as an exposition of her own feelings surrounding the relationship. With lines like “No, we don’t need therapy/ What I need is for you too leave” and a hook like “Oh, I’m so glad you gave back my keys” it seems as if Kelis has come to terms with the relationship’s demise. Some tracks do however seem out of place. ‘Bless The Telephone’ is like an olive in a fruit salad, pleasant on its own but it just doesn’t belong amongst the rest.
The recurring and obvious theme to this album is Kelis’ love for and talent with food. Having qualified as a certified chef in 2010, and having started her own cooking show, ‘Saucy & Sweet’, this year, Kelis appears to trying to be milk this cow for all its worth. Whether it works, I’m not sure. Sure a pop album ought to be playful and novelty is healthy but only to a certain extent. Food instead sounds overwrought and as such lacks the spontaneity that one would likely find on Wanderland or Kaleidoscope. These two albums, arguably her best, owe a lot to The Neptunes – so much so she’s since tried to pursue other avenues for the sake of her own artistic health. While one would imagine the partnership with Dave Sitek is a match made in heaven – both have the critical cred – the end product is a collection of tracks that are, for the most part, flavourless, bland and destined to become a desperate last resort for whenyour folks can’t find their old Soul and Funk LPs.
Getting old is tough and this album is proof. A window into her life this album may be, but the window doesn’t present anything new or exciting. Rather,Food reveals an indulgent, rose-tinted memory of the golden age of Soul and RnB – a mere photocopy of the original.