The way Kelis comes on, you might think her fourth full-length album, Kelis Was Here, is a wholesale aural reinvention on par with a certain, Etta James-obsessed Mouseketeer, with brassy, bluesy vocals and retro feel. But then the slinky, stiletto-heeled “Bossy” kicks in and you’re safely back in a comfortably familiar stylistic wonderland. Kelis Was Here, like her three albums prior, doesn’t stay locked into the R&B genre exclusively and this shotgun approach renders the disc an intriguing mishmash of sounds, beats, and vocal affectations; Kelis is just as captivating when she coos as she is when her pipes get dangerously husky. Moments of brilliance flash like a briefly glimpsed grill: “Living Proof” is a sweet, playful slice of vintage pop; the synth-clap fueled “Goodbyes” is a nicely understated piece of pathos; and the raunchy “Blindfold Me” provides some satisfying thump. Unfortunately, “What’s That Right There” goes nowhere fast, while “Till the Wheels Fall Off” opens big, builds promisingly, and fizzles quickly. And those in search of “Milkshake, Part 2” are going to be sorely disappointed by what’s on display here. Far too long at 17 tracks (plus a “hidden” track, the delightfully juvenile “Fuck Them Bitches”) and never really maintaining a sense of forward momentum, Kelis Was Here is the sound of a talented, leftfield hip-hop diva in a holding pattern, concerned about her legacy but uncertain as to how to go about cementing it.
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