On his past two albums, R&B's most shameless lover man abandoned his shtick in favor of lovelorn, PG-rated retro soul. But the 2011 throat surgery that saved R. Kelly's voice clearly also reignited his libido, because on Black Panties, he stops lighting candles and starts dipping his wick. "Gonna go down on my knees/And ask that pussy to marry me," he sings on "Marry the Pussy," a deadly serious, gorgeously sung, heavily detailed cunnilingus proposal that will delight fans of Kelly's outsize hump-happy persona. But the best moments on Black Panties are when Kells tones down his lothario swagger and instead tries to seduce with subtlety: On "Genius," the best cut, he employs low-key strings, a Purple Rain-pilfered drum-machine beat and a cascade of la's and ooh's for a slow-jam that harkens back to his Chocolate Factory heyday. Kells' voice remains one of the most flexible and inventive instruments in pop, but, even for him, Panties veers too frustratingly between horny and corny.
From The Archives Issue 1198: December 19, 2013