Kelis: Food

source: Ninja Tune

Text Khalid Azizuddin

It seems that once every three years, Kelis gives her latest incarnation an airing. Previously it was the sass and trucker cap innuendo of ‘Milkshake’. Then she was the annual sacrificial virgin of the industry to satiate the Pagan God Guetta. Various unmemorable electro pop and Euro trash iterations later and we have the new Kelis album in our collective consciousness, pithily titled Food.

A few phrases searched reveals that Miss Kelis Rogers is in fact a Le Cordon Bleu-trained saucier with her own line of condiments and a cooking show in the works. So instead of Food as shorthand for a deeper spiritual nutrition, we are left with an album that is basically a tribute to nosh. Fears that this may descend into kitsch are somewhat allayed with the knowledge that TV on the Radio’s guitarist and talented knob-twiddler David Sitek is helming production duties. One can’t help but wonder quite how she won Sitek’s favour but also that it was most probably worth it. She has quite a voice that Kelis, and with his studio trickery, it is usually on outstanding form. In turn, it is coloured by shades of Aaliyah’s silky simper, Christina’s rasp, and Mary J’s full-figured femininity.

Food leads off with ‘Jerk Ribs’, a slinky afro beat number. A descending bassline meanders side-to-side while claves and drums syncopate. Over the joyous brass of the chorus, Kelis sings that “it feels just like it should.” It is very much an example of what is to come. There are lots of cunningly layered brass/horns, funky guitar lines, and inventive little percussive bits. Production is crisp. Crisp. Sometimes it sounds almost like a parody of a Sitek production. Listen to TV on the Radio’s Dear Science and Maximum Balloon’s solo album enough times and soon you will be able to anticipate each clean guitar lick and jaunty horn blast on Food.

While this takes nothing away from the dizzying technical proficiency on display, it may perhaps detract from the joy and spontaneity that this collection attempts to elicit. Elsewhere, album highlights scale dizzying heights. ‘Floyd’ makes do with minimal keys, horns, and drums, but when Kelis leans into the swooning chorus, “I want to be blown awaaaaay,” kneecaps tremble. On this song, she puts forth a strong, sophisticated female perspective (much more coherent than any of Beyonce’s progressively reductive contributions), conceding that while she is self-sufficient and independent, she would like a man in her life.

Looking at the landscape of contemporary mainstream pop, women seem to only be derived of two camps: men-hating spinsters or instinctive nymphomaniacs. A nuanced, actual real life perspective seems rare in popular music and what a thoroughly depressing fact that is. Food however contains too many filler moments for it to be truly brilliant. A plodding, lifeless cover of Labi Siffre’s ‘Bless the Telephone’, coupled with the tracks ‘Breakfast’, ‘Cobbler’, and ‘Biscuits ‘n Gravy’ never really manage to take off. This is an album with a few choice tracks that will go on to become genre classics – unfortunately, that means it will be judged more harshly as a whole for it.

LISTEN TO: ‘Floyd’

1. Jerk Ribs
2. Breakfast
3. Forever Be
4. Floyd
5. Runnin’
6. Hooch
7. Cobbler
8. Bless the Telephone
9. Fish Fry
10. Change
11. Rumble
12. Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy
13. Dreamer