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Flesh Tone, Kelis' lone release through Interscope, brought about a pair of Top Five club hits. The creatively restless singer and songwriter nonetheless quickly moved on to working on her sixth album with a handful of U.K. garage and dubstep producers, including Skream, whose 2013 "Copy Cat" featured one of her most clever (and slightly creepy) turns. She changed course again and teamed up with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, whose Los Angeles house hosted loose recording sessions with an atmosphere that, according to Kelis, was "like a freakin' commune." Released on U.K. label Ninja Tune, Food sports a cover that doesn't seem nearly bright or colorful enough to reflect its sound -- an eclectic and modern-sounding synthesis of classic pop and rhythm & blues with a lot of friskiness, some funk, and even a little twang. Strings, horns, and brass arranged by Todd Simon are a major part of the album and match up well with the slightly scratchy and simultaneously sportive and sincere qualities of Kelis' voice. The certified chef's references to food are abundant, but they're all used as a way to help illustrate a set that is principally about a blossoming relationship and positive reflection. The first line of the opening "Breakfast" -- "I wanna say thank you, you've been more than just a man" -- is more an indication of the album's theme than its song titles. Likewise, the shuffling and soaring "Jerk Ribs" contains no actual culinary content, rooted instead in a brilliantly drawn memory about her father, where "He said to look for melody in everything" is followed by instantly memorable horn riffs. On the rollicking Afro-beat-touched "Cobbler," Kelis coos, "You make me hit notes that I never sing," and it somehow seems totally justifiable to have a background singer trail the line with "She never sings these notes" and a Deniece Williams-like flourish. During the album's second half, the celebratory spirit is temporarily interrupted by a surprising acoustic diversion -- a straightforward cover of folk love song "Bless the Telephone" (1971), originally written and recorded by another classification-defying artist, Labi Siffre. While it remains almost impossible to dissociate Kelis and early collaborators the Neptunes, it's more difficult imagining a better creative alliance -- at this point in her career, at least -- than the one that shines here.

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