It seemed like everyone recorded a disco album back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—even Barbra Streisand. That trend seems poised to repeat itself in the early part of this new decade, this time with cheesy, Ibiza-style house beats as accompaniment, and Kelis is the latest female artist to jump on the bandwagon.
Her new album, Flesh Tone, sounds dated in the worst kind of way—that is, not enough to sound retro-cool, but enough to sound totally uncool. David Guetta—who’s producing Kelly Rowland’s upcoming bid for further clubland approval following the pair’s hit “When Love Takes Over,” and who’s at the helm of two tracks here—might just be the worst thing to happen to American dance music since, well, the last wave of Eurodisco hit our shores more than a decade ago. Yep, the girl who once contributed vocals to this is now slumming with the new king of Eurotrash.
That said, it’s impossible to deny just how well-conceived and packaged Flesh Tone is. Nine tracks with more or less the same exact beats per minute and nearly identical synth lines shouldn’t work, but somehow this one does. It helps that the album is a scant 37 minutes, segued together with symphonic, keyboard-driven interludes that are frequently more interesting than the actual songs, which alternate between dance-floor anthems about love (mostly for Kelis’s son) and dance-floor anthems about individuality and self-expression.
The misspelled, Guetta-produced lead single “Acapella” falls into the former category; it sounds like a club remix of what was once a much better-produced song, but it’s got a soaring, melodic hook worthy of Donna Summer: “Before you! My whole life was a cappella/Now a symphony’s the only song to sing!” “Scream,” another Guetta track, comes closest to capturing the long-established anti-establishment bent of Kelis’s work, as does “Emancipate,” the effectively repetitive hook of which comes into full bloom courtesy of a small backing choir. Inspiration and self-actualization are the themes of the day—or night (there’s even a clever little line in “Brave” about earning her Purple Heart).
Flesh Tone should sound desperate, but it often sounds inspired instead. Sure, it’s inspired by a style of club music that makes Lady Gaga’s songs sound downright revolutionary, but Kelis seems electrified by her new genre shift, and the result is an album that’s one of her most consistent to date.