R. Kelly: Reisig & Taylor
David Browne
August 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Happy People

Current Status
In Season
R Kelly
Jive Records

We gave it a B+

For someone facing further humiliation, if not serious jail time, R. Kelly has been astonishingly prolific. His creative overflow continues with ”Happy People”/”U Saved Me,” an intentionally provocative double CD divided into distinct halves. On the first disc, Happy People, Kelly makes like the life of several parties. ”Hello, world, it’s a great day/Be thankful, put a smile on your face,” he announces right off the bat, in the supple groove of ”Weatherman.” The rest of the disc runs with that no-worries vibe. Starting with ”Red Carpet,” he hits the clubs prowling for love as breezy disco beats brighten up each track. In ”Ladies’ Night,” he focuses on one particular woman on the dance floor, to whom he offers the world in the next song, ”If.” Then, when they’re alone, he promises her ”The Greatest Show on Earth,” and he’s not talking clowns and tigers. ”What you are about to witness is unheard,” he croons, one of many lines that make you wonder how nervous his lawyer grew when scanning the lyric sheet.

Given the allegations against him, ”Happy People” feels either clueless or arrogant. Yet there’s no denying that Kelly knows record making. The songs, all of which he wrote and produced, have a clean and fluid directness. He ramps up the Studio 54 feel in ”Steppin’ Into Heaven” (with what must surely be an intentional reference to a ”love train”) and adds Philly soul strings to ”If.” But mostly, he knows the power of simplicity: no guest rappers and overly obvious samples here. While the tracks rarely hit the transcendent highs of an enduring disco hit, Kelly’s love of old-fashioned song craft is something to admire.

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