*** (out of 4)
One can imagine an alternate reality in which Kelly Rowland might have spent the last few months playing it safe, coasting on the attention of the Destiny's Child Super Bowl reunion with straightforward, midtempo love songs. Or she may have put out some slick, branded content to coincide with her debut as a judge on “X Factor.”
Yet while Rowland's presence has never been more strongly felt in America's living rooms, the singles from her fourth album, “Talk a Good Game,” have avoided polite platitudes–a tone that is frequently, if not always, matched on the rest of the album. The Mike WiLL Made It-produced “Kisses Down Low” brilliantly flips a syrupy ballad into a swaggering ode to oral sex in the vein of Three Six Mafia's “I'd Rather” and Shawnna's “Gettin' Some.” It's a fantastically bold reintroduction for those who haven't checked in on Rowland in a decade. The truly breathtaking centerpiece of the album is the song that explores some of what happened in that period: the riveting, gut-wrenching “Dirty Laundry.” Laying out the frank details of an abusive relationship – including its effect on Rowland's relationships with both her parents and Beyoncé – over a spare piano track, it's a uniquely therapeutic single that's impossible to tune out or turn away from.
At times, Rowland succumbs to a hint of adult-contemporary cheesiness. If you've ever wondered why no one's previously thought to combine Joni Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi” and Wiz Khalifa rapping, your answer is here. Mostly, though, the rest of the album shifts comfortably and successfully between the mellow vibes of post-Drake R&B (courtesy of Drake producers Boi-1da and T-Minus) and a few high-energy highlights like the mid-2000s pop of Pharrell-assisted “Street Life” or the Diddy-style electro'n'b of “Freak.”
An album that will please both those who have grown up alongside Rowland and those young enough to think of her as part of the canon, “Talk a Good Game” isn't always the safest move. As a result, it's the right one.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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