Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like she! She once was lost but now she is, indeed, found.
After releasing a rather disappointing third studio album, Here I Am, in 2011, Kelly Rowland makes a strong return with her new release, Talk a Good Game.
After nearly two decades in the music industry, it seemed as though Ms. Rowland was still having trouble finding her artistic niche but I had not written her off just yet. She has the talent, beauty, and personality to take her to the next level of stardom but it has always been lackluster material that held her back.
Now, Kelly arrives with a cohesive, well-produced project that highlights her vulnerabilities and musical strengths. Appearances on the album by the likes of Beyoncé, Michelle Williams, and The-Dream are just an added bonus.
Unlike the critics, my goal is not to compare Kelly to her contemporaries but to compare her to herself and appreciate her growth as an artist. Talk a Good Game is compelling from beginning to end and it fully reaffirms my faith in her.
Let us begin…
Kelly opens Talk a Good Game with “Freak,” setting a high energy mood with its sporadic beat and provocative lyrics. The song, originally performed by Jamie Foxx, embodies her risqué side while also demonstrating a degree of maturity from her previous works. The album is off to a good start and I think she did a fine job with her cover of Foxx’s song. 3/5
“Kisses Down Low”
As the lead single for the album, the less-than-stellar chart performance of “Kisses Down Low” gave her new era a dismal beginning. Produced by Mike WiLL Made It, the song follows the overtly sexual theme she relied on with past singles, “Motivation,” “Lay it on Me,” and “Ice.” I must say this formula is becoming redundant for the singer and though it is not a bad song, it really does not represent Kelly’s growth. 2.5/5
“Gone (feat. Wiz Khalifa)”
Wiz Khalifa is enlisted for the Harmony Samuels-produced anthem, “Gone.” Kelly sings, “There’s a million ways that I could tell you/ But I think I’d rather show you it’s over/ And I won’t be back no more.” Rowland’s vocals on this track are neither too big nor too small, complementing the bass-heavy beat. Khalifa’s verse on “Gone” adds a nice touch and I think that, overall, the song would perform very well on radio. 3.5/5
“Talk a Good Game (feat. Kevin Cossom)”
The album’s title track puts things into perspective, foreshadowing the emotional journey the remainder of the project entails. Perhaps this would have been a more suitable song to open the album, but it is still great as it stands. “If love is free and talk is cheap/ Don’t make me pay for your mistakes, boy,” buzzes Kelly. Kevin Cossom, who serves as the song’s co-producer, also features on it and his verse is rather short and sweet. I’m not familiar with Cossom but I like what I am hearing. 3.5/5
“Down on Love”
“Down on Love” is another vocally impressive song on which the mezzo-soprano wanders more freely through her vocal range and offers careful, well-placed runs. The smooth background vocals are one of the song’s standout features, evoking a subtly relaxed aura. Kelly sings about feeling neglected by her lover, pleading that she wishes to give things another try only if her efforts are reciprocated. 3/5
Co-penned by The-Dream, this track unfolds like a diary entry as Rowland croons about once being in an abusive relationship and being turned against her close friend Beyoncé. Each verse of “Dirty Laundry” pulls you deeper into the story and it is easily Kelly’s most emotional and vulnerable songs ever. The track’s clean production puts the lyrics front and center, though you may have to listen to the song a few times to fully grasp every jaw-dropping detail. “Kinda lucky I was in her shadow/ Phone call from my sister, ‘What’s the matter?'” she pours out. “She said, ‘Oh no, baby, you gotta leave!’/ ‘I’m on the kitchen floor, he took the keys.'” 4.5/5
“You Changed (feat. Beyoncé and Michelle Williams)”
It’s not technically a Destiny’s Child reunion but it might as well be. Kelly taps former bandmates, Beyoncé and Michelle, for “You Changed,” a song reminiscent of their 2004 hit, “Girl.” Their vocals on the song are refined yet full, while the harmonies are simply delectable. “You Changed” is laid-back with a timeless nature, making it sound like classic Destiny’s Child. 3.5/5
“I Remember” is a lovely R&B ballad that combines urban elements with a bit of techno and EDM. Kelly’s light voice breezes beautifully over the The Runners-produced instrumental as she sings, “I remember when you loved, when you loved me.” 3.5/5
Kelly gets vintage with “Red Wine,” serving up some insane harmonies and vocal layering on the old school track. The tone of her voice is divine, especially as she dips into her lower register. “Red Wine” is very Brandy-esque but works perfectly with Rowland’s voice. 4/5
“This is Love”
“This is Love,” produced by Arthur McArthur, is seductive yet classy. “I’m waiting and anticipating for you to give it to me/ Boy I’m trying to hold it inside,” goes Kelly. “Heart racing, my body shaking/ ‘Cause when you give it to me, boy you are the truth, I can’t lie …” If released as a single, “This is Love” would likely do well because it has a R&B and pop crossover appeal. 3.5/5
“Street Life (feat. Pusha T)”
Kelly switches up the pace a bit with the up-tempo, “Street Life”. Pharrell did a phenomenal job on production while Pusha T’s verse didn’t really add to or take anything away from the song. I especially love the funky vibe of “Street Life” and it sounds like a perfect summer jam. I’m feeling it. 3/5
“Stand in Front of Me”
The emotional roller coaster comes to a gentle end with this jovial selection, “Stand in Front of Me.” Love is in the air and neither Kelly nor her man is afraid to tell the world all about it. She chimes, “He said, ‘stand in front, let me palm that, show ’em you’re my girl and that is that.'” Rowland’s voice is soft and flirty, closing the album with a sensual touch. 4/5
The songs on Talk a Good Game are the best I’ve heard from Kelly since 2007 when she released her sophomore LP, Ms. Kelly. The production on the album is stellar and I can tell that Kelly and her team took their time to craft this project. In the future, however, I only wish that Kelly take way more risks vocally and creatively.
Refund: “Kisses Down Low”
Refill: “Dirty Laundry,” “Red Wine,” “Stand in Front of Me”