After a four-year hiatus, which saw her get more press for both divorcing Nas and giving birth to his child, Kelis is back with fifth studio album Flesh Tone. Long-time Kelis fans might be initially surprised at the sonic switch-up—it’s more dance than quirky R&B—but there’s something totally right about the way Kelis tackles electronic music.
Maybe it’s the production: an array of very known, almost rote, euro-dance beatsmiths (from David Guetta to Boys Noize to Benny Benassi) pave the album with synths. But it’s probably all Kelis: her trademarked raspy voice, commanding and anthemic as usual, harkens back to ’90s, diva-ized Eurohouse. On lead single “Acapella” (sic) Guetta’s usual neck-bending cheese turns surreal, thanks to a relentless metre and a perfectly crafted, love song of a chorus. It segues into another Guetta track, “Scream,” which weaves between contemplative piano breaks and clashy, freestyle-y electro-dance—the perfect setting for proto-Kelis fury. From there, melodic house producer Benny Benassi takes over with “Emancipate”—easily the album’s best song—a clipped, choir-backed throwback that would crush a 2010 vogue-off.
The slightly conformist, but still completely unconventional dance assault is continuous throughout the album’s nine tracks. You might want to dislike the rave synths on “Home,” effects-overload of “4th of July,” or the fuzzy, Ed Banger-culled electro on “Brave” but you can’t, because Kelis’ electronic shift isn’t forced or calculated. Sure, the producer roster could’ve been less starry and more refined, but why miss out on an album full of guaranteed bangers—especially when Kelis is musically sophisticated enough to not let her beats carry her.