Kelis, ‘Flesh Tone’ – First Listen

Kelis’ fifth studio album, produced by a Diplo, David Guetta and (among others), is due for release on May 17, 2010.

The first sign of how strongly Kelis wants her album to chime with the times arrives within three seconds, when a loping kickdrum announces that she’s gone italo disco. While stately electro-funk pings all around her, the ex-Mrs Nas offers a deliberately overwrought, emotion-saturated vocal – a bit like Bowie circa ‘Heroes’. Key lyric: “We control the dancefloor”.


22nd Century
The manifesto. Boys Noize take production duties and immediately start deploying the hoover-house synths that are to become the album’s hallmarks. They’re soon joined by its other hallmark: an unashamedly-large four-to-the-floor kick-drum. Kelis essays her whole futurist house-meets-disco-meets-electro new direction thus: “Welcome to the 22nd Century/religion, science fiction, technology”, shortly before the whole thing submerges into an astonishing wave-after-wave of ear-candy digitized bleeps and gurgles.

4th Of July (Fireworks)
The hip-house dream didn’t die with Justin Nevins. It was just on a heart-lung machine for 12 years, until sometime Black Eyed Peas associate DJ AMMO could re-fit a big Nevins-style kick drum onto this surefire future single. Contains: mainly frazzled, sonically-saturated electro that reminds us of The Love Below at its most boxing-clever.

A minor-key ra-a-a-a-ve synth line predominates early on: a bit like something Oakenfold would’ve dropped at Global Gathering 2002. Kelis at her most breathy, does her now-familiar astral saucepot croon: “Your love is blinding/I’m already home”.

The single that’s already delivered a jewel-encrusted battering ram into the top ten. Incredibly, for for all its ‘I Feel Love’ sophistication and glistening Hollies harmonies, it’s still not even in the top-three songs on here.

David Guetta, the album’s lead producer and spiritual father, gets to put his whole bag of tricks on display. A glistening blade of blues melody slices in atop a rinky-dink sampled piano. Lots of sonic confusingness: the whole song evaporates midway through, then reassembles and feeds into a stacatto spoken-word electroclash midsection.

In which Kelis visits the Rio carnival, harvests samba-styles by the kilo, then uses them for a song of trite platitudes about a self-help and empowerment with the sort of one-note ra-ta-ta carnival chorus that can easily be tooted out on a whistle.


After a brief – cripes – dubstep interlude, Kelis calls in the Justice distorted-electro howitzers to blasts the last vestiges of new-direction resistance out of her fanbase. A treated crash cymbal brings the aggressive overtones of DFA1979. She belts it like Loleatta Holloway. It’s suddenly very Ed Banger round here.

Song For The Baby
The most traditional, most recognisably R&B moment, ‘Song For The Baby’ finally plonks Kelis back on solid ground. Some old-soul piano chords that could have been culled from Aretha meet up with some friendly Stax horns and invite a markedly less robotic Kelis in to sing a winsome, positive melody advising her young kid on future happiness. The final moments are fed back through the Daft Punkificator, before fading out slowly, soothingly.