- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

R. Kelly

Happy People/U Saved Me

Jive Records

Sinner or saint. Whatever you may think of R. Kelly, only God, and now the courts — thanks to the 37-year-old Grammy-winner’s legal dilemma involving child pornography charges stemming from sex with a teenage girl — can decide.

Mr. Kelly, meanwhile, has a more simplistic portrait of his dichotomy via “Happy People/U Saved Me.”

The new work, arriving today in record stores, enables the star to believe that he can, indeed, have it both ways through the two-disc set.

Perhaps, he could — if — and I can’t stress “if” strongly enough — if he had substantive material to fill each disc.

He doesn’t.

Expounding upon the vapid euphoria of “Step in the Name of Love” from his most recent hit album, 2003’s “Chocolate Factory,” Mr. Kelly this time around has not only remixed and retitled the track “Happy People,” but attempts to use it as the cornerstone for the 11 “secular” songs on Disc 1. That’s much like the groundbreaking “What’s Going On” from Marvin Gaye (to whom Mr. Kelly often has been compared) with its central theme and message running throughout.

However, instead of observing social problems like Mr. Gaye (who, by the way, only needed one album, not two), Mr. Kelly places his focus on partying (“Happy People”) and basking in the glow of superstardom (“Red Carpet”).

Elsewhere, Mr. Kelly reinforces his lubriciousrep, though not to the explicit likes of such earlier grooves as “Bump and Grind” and “Sex Me, Pts. 1-2.”Here, he dishes up bedroom bragging rights in “The Greatest Show on Earth,” a saucy ballad in which he boasts of the good times, behind closed doors, that await his latest conquest.

How’s that for ego?

Things change dramatically, though, on Disc 2, “U Saved Me.”

The six-song set begins with “3-Way Phone Call,” a somber tune featuring gut-busting R&B; vocalist Kelly Price (along with Kim Burrell and Maurice Mahon) and a contrite Mr. Kelly expressing doubts about his future and asking for prayer.

Similar testimonials, all involving triumph over various bouts of hard luck, resurface on “U Saved Me” (currently a fixture on urban and gospel music radio stations) and “Prayer Changes” — two separate back-to-back tracks that offer little variation.

Predictably, tunes on the “U Saved Me” disc are accompanied by backing gospel choirs. However, the potential buttressing effect is squandered amid choppy and infantile lyrics about universal love, faith and world peace.

Mr. Kelly is certainly capable of much better things.

Hopefully, we”ll hear them in the very near future.

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