Kelis Was Here
t's tempting to view Kelis as someone caught in the trap of her own eccentricities. Because her voice resides somewhere in the no-woman's land between Macy Gray and Erykah Badu, she's got grit and she's got (neo-)soul, but she ain't got enough of either to secure a slot with the heavy hitters. Her vocal tone is distinctive, sho' nuff, and it lends itself to the options we've already seen her exercise—come-hither wench, bossy bitch, sultry hook girl. But stretched over an album's worth of raspy shit? Erm, not so much. Extended over a record as bloated with ideas and parsimonious with tunes as Kelis Was Here and things really start looking bleak.
After the preposterous claims of the intro are out of the way ("your children's babies babies babies etc. will know that Kelis was here"), we're slapped right into single "Bossy," and even though we get the inferior Too Short remix ("she's fine and she's pretty," whaaaaaat), it's still a hit, vaguely middle-eastern motif and kiddie xylophone-crunk firmly in place. But a hit that references your last one? Never a good sign.
Up next is "What's That Right There," which opens with the first second of Funkadelic's "(Not Just) Knee Deep," and then samples it again to provide a clever undertow to the main jam, and then goes on to paraphrase "Freak of the Week," but its main virtues are its own—an odd, speaker-troubling rumble that gives one the false hope that Kelis will let herself weird out all over this record. "Till the Wheels Fall Off" is solid too—a mid-tempo car-bumper that rides a hopeful stick-with-you groove and ropes in brief snatches of electric guitar like it were any other sound effect. So far, so ride-worthy.
Then we hit "Living Proof." And it becomes increasingly apparent that we have a potentially good album that Kelis and company allowed a chimpanzee on PCP to sequence. There is nothing about this track that suggests anything other than closer material—it's tender, it's yearning, it's sweet, and it's absolutely the last thing in the world that you want to hear right before "Blindfold Me"—a rote club-banger (Lil Jon synth-horns? Check. Sirens? Check. Half-rapped vocal replete with wack sex talk? Check.) that goes from kinky to icky in no time flat. The remix/single version featuring Nas is even worse—possibly because we know these two actually have sex. Let me peek into your life all you want, hon, but please, know when to draw the blinds.
After the notable sag that is "Trilogy" and "Circus," the remainder degenerates into excessively quirky goo. Even Cee-Lo can't make this dinghy float well enough to find harbor, despite doing his best with the lovely "Lil' Star." Followed, quelle shock, by the insipid "I Don't Think So," an amusing-at-best attempt to shepherd Kelis into the teen-pop audience, which comes off even more half-cocked than lines like "you wanna get in my pants / I don't think so" would lead one to believe, mainly because Kelis enunciates the vocal a bit harder than she needs to—and at this point, we're already half-asleep, so this worthy effort just ends up disturbing our rest. There are other needless songs—the obnoxious "Ain't Ready," the gospel gaffe of "Appreciate Me," but they hardly seem worth mentioning. Maybe it’s because the conceit of Kelis Was Here is unravelled in the intro—she wants, like ten generations down the road to remember her. In that case, please give us something a bit stronger to stand on than being a better R&B singer than Gwen Stefani.