David Browne
August 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

U Saved Me

Current Status
In Season
R Kelly
Jive Records

We gave it an B-

On the companion album to R. Kelly’s double CD divided into distinct halves, U Saved Me, Kelly is a changed man: troubled, pained, seemingly paying the price for all the romancing he did on disc 1. Again, he sets the tone with the first song: in this case, ”3-Way Phone Call,” presented as a conversation between Kelly, his ”sister” (sung by Kelly Price), and a female friend. As he implores, among other things, ”Do you really think I can rise up again?” the women reassure Kelly that all will be well as long as he keeps the faith.

More testimonial than song — and often inadvertently amusing (we have to wait and wait as Price dials her friend’s number, the phone rings and rings, and Kelly wonders whether she’s home) — the song doesn’t bode well for the rest of ”U Saved Me.” Kelly dangles the promise of details and confessions that never arrive. Tracks like ”Spirit” and ”When I Think About You” are ersatz gospel hymns with generalized sentiments about seeing the light. When it comes to specifics, he’s more likely to sing about other people’s dilemmas: In the title track, he’s a drunk-driving-accident victim redeemed when he lands a new job, and in ”Prayer Changes,” he takes on the roles of several hard-luck cases, including an abused woman and a faltering college basketball player.

Kelly probably wants all this to have the feel of an actual prayer session, complete with the inevitable gospel choirs that are meant to signify sincerity and nobility. But rather than building to a frenzied peak, as awe-inspiring services do, ”U Saved Me” mopes along. The problem separating sinner and salvation seeker into two albums becomes apparent as ”U Saved Me” gets bogged down in one indistinct, syrup-doused ballad after another: ”The Diary of Me” tries to be another ”I Believe I Can Fly” but never takes wing. Kelly wishes to be forgiven for unspecified sins — he’s simply an honest churchgoing guy who’s given in to temptation, or so he disingenuously implies.

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