Kelis has finally filled in the missing shades of her kaleidoscopic alterna-chick image and delivered Tasty, her vivid, full-spectrum new CD.
Kelis' 1999 single ''Caught Out There,'' with its choleric, atonal chorus, set her apart from smooth soul princesses and rap divas alike. But at the heart, her debut, ''Kaleidoscope,'' was mostly ham-fisted hip-hop programming (courtesy of the Neptunes, who also had a hand in ''Tasty''), sprinkled with quirky intentions but lacking full-bodied songwriting. Her sophomore effort, 2001's ''Wanderland,'' was worse. (Luckily, it was never released in the U.S.) ''Tasty'' is Kelis' past -- big beats, out-there imagery, and sex appeal -- refined.
First off, the Neptunes have added more melodic meat to their skeletal backbeats. And their songwriting and phrasing have grown more nuanced, whether it be on lusty party anthems like the current single, ''Milkshake,'' or subtler, mellow surprises like ''Rolling Through the Hood.'' But the Neptunes get around like nobody's business; their sound is still too familiar and perhaps even too predictable for the daring artist Kelis is becoming. Fortunately, they produced less than half of ''Tasty'' (as opposed to 100 percent of ''Kaleidoscope''), and the added flavor is everything.
''Millionaire,'' the frenetic synth centerpiece produced by OutKast's Andre 3000, is anything but predictable. As is Damon ''Grease'' Blackmon's sultry yet gangsta ''Stick Up'' and ''Trick Me,'' a blistering sawtooth skank whipped up by Dallas Austin. The wildly talented but always understated Raphael Saadiq closes the album channeling Portishead on ''Marathon,'' and Kelis meets the muted bass and echoing snares with an ascendant Anita Baker-style bawl like nothing she's ever done before. Indeed, much of the beauty of ''Tasty'' is in witnessing Kelis rise to the challenge of working with multiple imaginative maestros.