I remember when I first heard “Caught Out There”. I didn’t swear at the time, but imagine it was the polite equivalent of “What the fuck?!?” And I’m sorry to say that was basically the last time I thought about Kelis (whose name I thought was pronounced “Kell Es”). And listening to this record, that makes me pretty sad.
I don’t like ’90s R&B as a rule. It’s not my kind of music to begin with, and there are all sorts of tropes I don’t love. But I’m not sure I’ve been more quickly won over by a “’90s” R&B singer than I was by Kelis on this record. (The quotes on ’90s because this is about as late as you could possibly release an album in the 1990s.) From “Good Stuff” to the song that scared me when I was 18, to any number of other songs, this album feels to me like the introduction to a new major talent in the genre. Kelis is charismatic but she’s also (usually) got a pretty unique voice. (The songs were basically entirely written for her by the Neptunes, but I didn’t know that while I was listening to it. They did a good job of creating a set of songs that give you an image of her.)
This might be my album-length introduction to The Neptunes. (I know, I know.) I know of them, of course, but I don’t know if I’ve never listened to an album entirely written and produced by them before and, well, I am impressed. The music is super lean which feels in great ontrast to most of the ’90s R&B albums I’ve heard – the rule of thumb of which seems to be if they can add another instrument or sample, they should. So this sounds fresh to me, perhaps only because I’ve listened to the wrong stuff. (Maybe if I listened to less mainstream ’90s R&B I’d like some of it.) The leanness of the production makes it much easier to ignore how slick it is (because of course it’s slick).
And Kelis the performer really helps this. As much as I might admire the Neptunes, I’m not sure this works as well as it does with someone else, who has a less forceful personality.
So why not rate it higher? Well, like basically every ’90s R&B album ever, it’s too damn long. Even though there is only like one “interlude” (the intro) there still manages to be too many tracks and you really start feeling that around the time of “Ghetto Children”. I don’t know if shorter songs was the answer, I think fewer would have worked fine. Not everything needs to be an hour long.