Flesh Tone

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To say Kelis has been through some changes would be an understatement. Since the 2006 release Kelis Was Here, she moved from Jive to's Interscope-affiliated vanity imprint, divorced Nas, and gave birth to a boy. Between all that, in addition to a catalog of four R&B albums that deserved greater sales, she could be forgiven for making something like a mindless dance-pop album. While Flesh Tone is a headlong dive into sleek dance-pop -- one that could have been forecast years prior, given her collaborations with Moby, Timo Maas, and Richard X, and let us never forget Diddy’s “Let’s Get Ill” -- it is much more personal than any of her past releases. “Acapella,” one of two tracks made with David Guetta, seems merely redemptive (“It’s just me surviving alone,” “Before you, my whole life was acapella”) until considering that it comes from a woman whose marriage fell through just prior to motherhood. The song that creates the album’s second greatest rush is also about parenthood; “Song for the Baby” similarly strikes as a boilerplate dancefloor love song on the surface, but once its subject sinks in, “I love you more than you’ll ever know” disarms quicker than any line from “Get Along with You” or “Rolling Through the Hood.” The remaining tracks are based in romantic relationships, but not all of them are about moving ahead. The churning “Intro” is bleak, just about hopeless (“Your force so dark, now my life feels uninspired”), yet it is just as powerful as anything else on the album. Nine songs with seven unique sets of production credits whip by in 38 minutes. The setup works because the songs are conjoined and dynamically ordered, like each collaborator knew what was required to complement the other tracks without sacrificing any distinct sonic character. Whether or not Flesh Tone remains a stylistic outlier, the disc will always be a bright standout in Kelis' discography.

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