Artist: KelisTitle: Kelis Was HereRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Alex Thornton
While Kelis’s two previous American releases (1999’s Kaleidoscope and 2003’s Tasty) each produced a hit single, her spot has not been as solid as one might expect from an artist aligned with names like Nas and The Neptunes. Her versatility has been both her greatest strength and weakness, leading to a unique and varied catalogue, but one that has failed to give her sustained success. Having finally stepped away from the direction of The Neptunes, even long-time fans wondered if Kelis Was Here could stack up to her previous artistry yet increase her commercial appeal.
This time around, Kelis does in fact include enough radio-friendly material to keep casual listeners happy, especially the frantic “Aww Sh*t!,” the breezy “Trilogy,” and dance-floor ready “Weekends.” Even on less mainstream tracks (like funky neo-soul standout “Till the Wheels Fall Off”) Kelis stays close enough to the beaten path to keep listeners with her, but keeps the playful lyrics and emotive vocals that have been her appeal all along. “Like U” is Kelis at her best; at once strange and familiar with a subtle humor that most R&B divas can’t pull off.
Still, even with a laundry list of hit-makers behind the boards, Kelis sometimes manages to fall victim to her own creativity. Her questionable attempt to rap through an entire song “Circus”) detracts from the song’s honest concept and Raphael Saadiq’s delicate craftsmanship. She may have also gone too far with “Handful,” which is more annoying than cute, and while Kelis’s vocals have never been her main attraction, they’re a lot less polished on this album than on her previous efforts. On some tracks, this comes off as raw and honest, but on the second single, “Blindfold Me,” the effect is just unpleasant.
While more commercially viable than her other three albums, this may not be what she needs to bring in many new fans. Those who’ve enjoyed her for the past seven years still will, but those looking for a simple pop affair may be confused. Still, this release does display that Kelis can survive without her former partners and even flourish in the right light. Kelis Was Here generally measures up, and if she can focus her sound a bit more for future releases, Kelis will remain here for a long time to come.