R. Kelly's problems start less than thirty seconds into Chocolate Factory, when he coos, "Anything you want/You just come to daddy." From other R&B lovemen, that would be boilerplate pillow talk, but allegations of participating in child pornography against Kelly provide a distorting filter through which his music will be heard for years to come.
That's too bad, because Chocolate Factory ranks among the best work of his career. The singer has backed off some of his porn-fantasy corniness and eased into a confident, soulful groove that runs consistently through the album and its equally appealing six-song bonus CD, Loveland. Factory's title track bounces on a hypnotic pulse and an instantly memorable hook, while "You Made Me Love You" borrows a guitar lick — and a deep Southern churchiness — from Al Green's "Love and Happiness." It remains to be seen if Kelly can regain his chart-busting status — or even salvage his career. But as a singer, songwriter and producer, he's at the top of his game.