In the years since the members of Destiny’s Child went their separate ways, Kelly Rowland has struggled to construct a musical style and persona that would do her considerable vocal talent justice. The first two tracks on her fourth album, Talk a Good Game, seem poised to do the same type of self-defining work that her previous album, Here I Am, attempted. They demonstrate one approach to individualization, as Rowland wastes no time divulging and celebrating her sexual appetite. “Kisses Down Low” is a club-ready R&B panegyric to a lover who skillfully puts the singer’s pleasure first, and its lyrics provide the lover with a straightforward set of erotic instructions: “I like my kisses down low/Make me arch my back/When you give it to me slow/Baby, just like that.” “Freak” similarly leaves little to the imagination, as Rowland begins the song with a panoramic view of her bedroom (“Mirrors on the ceiling/Cameras on the corners of my bed”) before defending everybody’s right to kinkiness.
If these tracks demonstrate an almost cringe-worthy degree of openness with regard to Rowland’s sex life, the single “Dirty Laundry” engages in a different form of confessionalism, as Rowland walks the listener through the period following Destiny’s Child’s break-up. While Beyoncé’s popularity skyrocketed (“My sister was on stage killin’ it like a mother”), Rowland apparently descended into creative blockage and romantic mistreatment (“I was battered/He hittin’ the window like it was me ’til it shattered”). The parallel narratives, both of which revolve around a crippling lack of self-confidence, allow Rowland a chance to add the type of emotional texture to her vocals that more straightforward dance tracks like “Kisses Down Low” largely preclude. It allegedly took Rowland over a dozen takes to record the song without breaking down, and the relatively spare production—ominous base notes, a minor-key piano melody, and some eerie strings—complements the moments when Rowland’s typically forceful voice wavers or hesitates. With help from writer-producer The-Dream, Rowland effectively brings the subtext of her relationship with Beyoncé to the surface, crafting a song even more candid than those that expose her inner freak.
As a testament to Rowland’s reconciliation with her “sister,” the vintage R&B number “You Changed” features the other two-thirds of Destiny’s Child and even surrenders the first verse to Beyoncé’s recognizable vocal styling. Like “Red Wine” and “This Is Love,” the song achieves a pleasant hybrid of throwback R&B touches—melismatic delivery and building vibrato that recalls Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston—and contemporary dance-pop synthesizers. The unfortunate misfire “Street Life,” co-written with Pharrell Williams and featuring Pusha-T, constitutes Rowland’s attempt to give voice to the experience of recession-era poverty, though it’s simply awkward to hear a Grammy-winning musician adopt first-person pronouns when claiming, “It’s like parole the time we’re facing.” Though the song suggests Rowland is still grapping with how to create an authentic artistic identity, Talk a Good Game’s standout tracks prove that she’s closer to carving a niche for herself than she has been on prior efforts that suppressed rather than addressed that difficulty.