R. Kelly’s 2004 album Happy People/U Saved Me was a misstep, heavily burdened by invocations of God’s infinite compassion for singers wrestling with child pornography charges. But Kelly has dropped all that for the time being: The nineteen-track TP.3 Reloaded is a return to form that acts as if all of his legal troubles were just a bad dream. The first four songs alone include a future club hit (“Playa’s [sic] Only”), an impossible-to-resist Seventies-style summer jam (“Happy Summertime”), a megacatchy kiss-and-tell (“Sex in the Kitchen”) and an affectingly mournful reggae slow jam (“Slow Wind”). From there, Kelly keeps his raunchy steez going full-blast.
TP.3 Reloaded (the title refers to Kelly’s 1993 breakthrough, 12 Play, and its 2000 sequel, TP2) shows how little Kelly has learned about life and how much he’s learned about hitmaking. “Kickin’ It With Your Girlfriend,” a disquieting apology to the boyfriend of a favorite playmate, succeeds thanks to its weird point of view and Kelly’s simultaneously grimy and silky-smooth melodies. He works up a world-class hook on “Girls Go Crazy” and skillfully ornaments Elephant Man’s toasting on “Reggae Bump, Bump.” Like most Kelly tracks, the Game-assisted “Playa’s Only” and “Burn It Up” target both casual hip-hop fans and R&B devotees who like a little whiskey in their warm milk.
The coup de gross is the “Trapped in the Closet” epic that closes the album, five remarkably overwrought cuts that turn Kelly’s horn-dog life into a daytime soap. Over the same melodramatic, pseudo-orchestral schmaltz, Kelly narrates a series of misadventures that includes a gay lover, a gunpoint standoff with a jealous boyfriend, crazy-hot make-up sex and a final shocking revelation. Like the rest of TP.3, it’s easy on the ears, a little ridiculous and enthralling all at once.