Things really do appear to have come full circle for a certain Kelly Rowland.
It’s almost 4 years to the day that the songbird unleashed her sophomore set ‘Ms. Kelly’ on the marketplace. As history goes; political and managerial mishaps unfortunately sunk that ship. As such, Rowland was seemingly cast to a fate as the lesser child of Destiny.
Fast forward to today, and the climate looks altogether different for the singer. Having severed ties with manager Mathew Knowles in 2009, her career has climbed from strength to strength. Indeed, the time since then has seen her notch up heightened success Internationally, land a role as a judge on the UK’s X Factor, and – perhaps most notably – score her biggest Stateside hit to date with the sizzling ‘Motivation’.
Hoping to legitimate this success, the 30 year old lined up an all-star cast of songwriters and producers to craft her third studio album ‘Here I Am’.
With past efforts not hitting the commercial strides they, perhaps, should have, will it be third time lucky for the songstress?
If the album’s declarative opener, ‘I’m Dat Chick’, is anything to go by, then the answer should be a resounding ‘yes’. Boasting sass in abundance, the Tricky Stewart banger is everything the opening track on an LP of this magnitude needed to be. Assertive, confident, and laced in swag. A fitting re-introduction to Rowland – the Solo Star.
‘Solo Star’ being a title she truly cements on standout cuts ‘Turn It Up’ and ‘Feeling Me Right Now’. Produced by Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins, the former serves up a pulsating 808, lush layered vocals, and is undeniably dancefloor destined. What’s more, it does what few up-tempo’s in the contemporary climate are concerned with – relays a palatable narrative. “I can tell the whole world now, that I had no idea you were loving her”, Rowland sings as she reminisces on a love gone wrong. A home-run if she’s ever hit one.
Elsewhere, the piano led ode-to-self ‘Feeling Me Right Now’ easily serves as one of the best songs the budding diva has recorded to date. For, with its sophist use of similes and metaphors, the Rico Love/Earl E produced track bests similar themed cuts – which far too often take the literal approach to self-empowerment. “I just want you close, close, nearer, I been watching you all night up in my mirror. I’m feeling me right now” she sings. Single treatment is imperative.
As is recognition of the sensual mid-tempo ‘All of the Night’. Produced by The Runners, the winner of a track sees Rowland veer further into tasteful ‘baby-making’ territory. A staple of any solid R&B effort.
Ironically, the album’s biggest strength (commercial appeal) ultimately serves as somewhat of an Achilles’ heel. For nowhere present is the moody, seduction which dripped from innovative lead single ‘Motivation’. Rather, the record instead boasts many a track clearly crafted (almost too-consciously) with radio in mind. Case, point, example, the Hitboy produced, Big Sean assisted ‘Lay It On Me’.
Though lacking a taxing vocal, ‘Lay’ however compensates with a friendly melody, hooks by the bucketload, and enough ‘eh eh’s’, ‘oh-oh’s’, and ‘so-lo’s’ to justify its selection as the project’s latest single.
Similarly, ‘Work It Man’ is an Urban and Rhythmic hit-in-waiting. Yet with its title and moreover Rowland’s history with its producer Darkchild (see: ‘Lose My Breath’ and even this LP’s ‘Turn It Up’), one could be forgiven anticipating something with more umph. Both vocally and production-wise.
‘Here I Am’, then, (from a lyrical and production standpoint) doesn’t wholly do what it says on the tin: tell us exactly who Kelly Rowland is. (An age-old issue for LP’s with such prolific titles).
However, in an ever-crowded marketplace, what the album does do exceptionally well is place Rowland at the epicenter of what’s current, trendy, and fresh. A path well-treaded on by chart contemporaries such as Rihanna, who when successful, are afforded the opportunity to ‘up the edgy’ on later releases. A point which makes the LP’s closing tracks – Dance duo ‘Commander’ and the RedOne produced ‘Down For Whatever’ – seem less out of place, and perhaps an indication of what’s to come. Or at the simplest of levels, a sample of what else she is capable of.
As such, with ‘Here I Am’, Rowland positions herself as a viable chart force, while also whetting our appetite for (what is hoped will be) a less ‘safe’ product next go round.
That Grape Juice Rating: 4/5 Stars