R. Kelly's genius at creating albums is casual in nature. He seems to just pick up whatever's lying around and put it out there for us to devour, which explains why this late 2010 album contains a barely-altered Christmas version of the title track that includes A COWBELL SOLO. Why not? There's such an unforced feeling to his output, in pop-auteur terms he's less Stevie Wonder or Prince than he is Neil "It's All One Song!" Young. (Except is Neil Young really an auteur? Discuss.) Kelly releases his share of crap, but Love Letter, while not as extended a triumph as 2004's Happy People, is right up there with his best long players.
From Sheep & Goats over at Burnside:
It’s like Song of Solomon, only it mentions God more and includes a scene in a taxi cab. This is Kells in his sunniest mode, stepping through his folks’ R&B collections while canned drums burble gently in the background. If, like me, you consider him the most gifted chart popper of the last decade, this is his most delightfully consistent effort since Happy People in ‘04. If, like my wife, you find him irredeemably cheesy, you may still appreciate the shouted adlib that ends “Number One Hit”: “You’re my Titanic! My movie star! My Coming to America! My Avatar!” Or maybe this, from “A Love Letter Christmas”: “I wanna have some fun, gimme the cowbell!” AND THEN HE PLAYS A COWBELL SOLO.
From Singles Jukebox, where the title track scored a collective 7.38:
The lyric is pretty brilliant, too. It’s a deceptively artless stream of consciousness on people’s motives for writing love letters, incorporated into his own act of writing, so that, without a shred of detail about Kelly’s surroundings, I can envision him sitting at his dining room table writing his letter, pausing every once in a while to ruminate on the nature of letter writing itself. And in my imagination, his dining room table is my dining room table, which in turn makes me think I should catch up on my correspondence. I mean, wow — talk about collapsing distinctions between life and art, between artist and audience.
And Tal Rosenberg correctly sez, "It certainly feels like no art I’ve come across in recent memory has dealt so plainly with such elemental sources of happiness."
(Way better than Destroyer's Kaputt.) (You know, if we're talking suave R&B vamps and such.)