Oh, Kelly, Kelly, Kelly. Miss Kelendria Rowland. We almost gave up on you. If there were ever a musical case of ‘always the bridesmaid’, it would have been you. We’re all massive fans of your turns in the form of Nelly & Kelly (‘oh’), When Love Takes Over (‘yeah-ee-yeah’), and What A Feeling (pass), but the solo material never quite hit it. Now, with Talk a Good Game, you’ve definitely surpassed Kellys Clarkson, Jones, and, er, Matthew in our eyes.
Of course, given the trail of singles from the record so far, it would have been difficult to expect anything less. Lead single Kisses Down Low – the sexiest ode to fellatio you ever did hear – is R&B at its commercial best; Dirty Laundry is a raw, emotional slow jam that perfectly balances confessional and cringe, a surprisingly profound cut in a genre ridiculed for its vapidity.
Opener Freak makes it quite clear: Rowland means business. Part Thriller-verse with more than a hint of Mis-Teeq’s Scandalous, it’s a full-bodied smack across the chops. Street Life sounds like just that, Red Wine is a perfect marriage of production and vocal, and The-Dream’s Sky Waker is the duo’s second smash in quick succession after his own IV-Play. Meanwhile Gone accomplishes the remarkable feat of being the most successful use of Joni Mitchell’s Got Till It’s Gone since Janet Jackson – we challenge anyone not to have a big ol’ lopey grin the moment the chorus hits.
Ironically, the weakest moment here is the Beyoncé and Michelle Williams-featuring You’ve Changed. But if anything, it’s proof of how far Rowland has come. Like Solange, she’s leagues away from being just a Beyoncé also-ran, carving out a very definite niche of her own – the pandering euro-dance current of Here I Am takes a welcome break in favour of comfortable ATL roots. Needless to say, with Beyoncé owning it and Kelly killing it, there’s really only one thing we all keep thinking: poor, poor Michelle.