Music reviews: ‘Black Panties,’ ‘Live at the Cellar Door’

[New York, NY – November 19, 2013] R. Kelly, the Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter/producer, is set to release his highly anticipated 12th studio album Black Panties on December 10th (RCA Records). The standard and deluxe editions of the album will be available for pre-order at select retailers on Black Friday, November 29th.

R. Kelly’s ‘Black Panties’

“Black Panties”
(RCA Records)
2 stars

Justin Timberlake may have brought sexy back. But leave it to R. Kelly to reclaim the sleaze.

On his 12th solo album, R&B’s most flagrant horndog revives the persona that gave the world odes as elevated as “Banging the Headboard,” “I Like the Crotch on You” and the swoon-worthy “Hit It ’Til the Morning.”

Kelly’s last two albums found him taking a rare detour to the high road — but “Black Panties” corrects that with a vengeance.

R. Kelly has dabbled with high-minded topics, but is now back at the raunch.

R. Kelly has dabbled with high-minded topics, but is now back at the raunch.

It’s Kelly’s lowest sex-fest since the CD that put him on the map two decades ago, “12 Play.”

Clearly, the years haven’t calmed his loins. “Black Panties” doesn’t overlook one of the star’s favorite kinks or positions. He gives us paeans to oral sex (“Legs Shakin’,” “Cookie”), voyeurism (“Throw This Money on You”), body-part fetish (“Marry the P—y.”), group sex (“Spend That”), exhibitionism (“Crazy Sex”) and — for a topper — a salute to the star’s obvious sack skills (“Sex Genius”).

In the right hands (or tongues or genitals, perhaps), this kind of stuff can be funny — like when the genuinely transgressive singer Millie Jackson mined this turf back in the 1970s.

But Kelly’s groin-play does not elicit similar screams, because his lyrics are so flawed. You can’t help smiling when he takes credit for “every child born around the world from the ’90s on up,” but there’s an instructional element to his writing that stops eros cold.

Neil Young at the time of his 'Live at the Cellar Door' performance

Henry Diltz/Warner Brothers

Neil Young at the time of his ‘Live at the Cellar Door’ performance

Kelly describes sex in ways either so acrobatic they sound tiring, or so clinical they seem gynecological.

Even so, his words are hot stuff compared to the numbness of his melodies and the immobility of his grooves. For some reason, when Kelly’s mind turns most fervently to sex, his tunes shrink. He has long perpetrated some of the narrowest melodies in modern R&B. But his sex songs reduce his four-note range to two.

Likewise, Kelly’s new beats keep mining the same slovenly grind. They’re meant to beckon, but like everything here, they only bore.

“Live at the Cellar Door”
(Reprise)
4 stars

'Live at the Cellar Door' showcases Young's work at a Washington, D.C., club.

Gary Burden/Warner Brothers

‘Live at the Cellar Door’ showcases Young’s work at a Washington, D.C., club.

Neil Young has taken a long, slow journey through the past. Over the last seven years, he has issued one archival release every 12 months — most of them cut live, one snaking as far back as 1962.

Not surprisingly, three of the releases have centered on Young’s classic days: “Live at Massey Hall,” capturing a show from his Canadian hometown in 1971; “Sugar Mountain,” from a gig in 1968; and now, “Cellar Door.”

Young recorded the latest one at the club in Washington, D.C., culling six shows staged in the last two months of 1970. It’s a solo acoustic set — just voice, piano and acoustic guitar — and it’s divine.

The show mimics the tone, intimacy and sometimes the repertoire of Young’s “Massey Hall” concert from the next year, but the D.C. disc has several key distinctions.

First, it includes three songs from his days with Buffalo Springfield. Certainly, Young often performed “I Am a Child” and “Expecting to Fly” from his first major band, but few live solo recordings exist of “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” from Springfield’s 1966 debut. It includes a witty intro where Young explains the gripping drama behind its lyrics: how to deal with being stoned when your mate is not.

Whatever the meaning, the melody has a serious beauty, not to mention an enviable melodic formality. It’s equally unusual to hear “Cinnamon Girl” delivered on the piano, swapping out its rock edge for an added sensitivity.

Likewise, Young restages “Down by the River” without its heavy electric guitar rave-up and with more major chords, taking away its sinister edge. The result turns this classic into a feel-good murder ballad. When you hear him perform on this version, you’ll be struck by just how young he sounds.

jfarber@nydailynews.com


Music & Arts – NY Daily News

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