From Neptunes muse to dance diva, over her 16-year career Kelis has proved herself one of pop's great chameleons. After the somewhat underwhelming EDM of ‘Flesh Tone’, Kelis is back to the heights of her 2003 masterpiece ‘Tasty’ with a potential magnum opus: ‘Food’.
There are two notable ingredients in this record. First, it was produced by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, who has sprinkled the album with helpings of gospel, soul, funk, and afrobeat. The second is the literal and unequivocal culinary influence. Having split from her record label after ‘Kelis Was Here’ and wanting a break from the music industry, Rogers embarked on a 5 year Cordon Bleu cooking course. She's recently launched the pilot episode of cooking show, ‘Saucy And Sweet’, and is about to release her own range of condiments. It was this new-found enthusiasm for the culinary arts that inspired Kelis' return to the studio. And boy, has she served up a veritable feast of a record...
There's something about ‘Jerk Ribs’ that inescapably reminds me of the exuberant lunacy and unchained joy of a Saturday morning cartoon (perhaps it's that swinging brass hook, which feels ever-so reminiscent of an old Cartoon Network ident swirling around the mists of my childhood memories). The track is a perfect mixture of old-school soul styling and contemporary pop sensibility, giving it a real timeless quality. Indeed this is an apt description of much of the album. Tracks like ‘Hooch’ and ‘Cobbler’ respectively serve up the most delicious funk and Latin fizz one could ask for, yet rather than pastiche they feel somehow modern.
‘Food’, however, isn't all fun and games. Although Kelis insists that she's “over” her divorce, she also stated in a recent interview with the Guardian that since Nas referenced their break-up on his latest album, there were things she felt necessary to publically address. This occasionally shines through, particularly in the melancholic blues of tracks like ‘Floyd’ and ‘Runnin’’, and the lyrics of ‘Rumble’. Amazingly, ‘Food’ only veers into sentimentality with ‘Forever Be’ which, given the context as a seeming tribute to the great pop of the late nineties, works completely.
Thankfully this is not an album entirely devoted to confessional catharsis. There is, for example, the wonderfully peaceful cover of Labi Siffre's 1971 track ‘Bless the Telephone’, which is perhaps the sweetest and most chilled-out moment in Kelis' entire oeuvre.
In the same Guardian interview mentioned above, Ms Rogers casually dropped that she “might never make another album again.” It is exactly this nonchalance and unconcern that is necessarily audible all over the album. How else would Kelis have the gall to throw in the more bizarre tracks like ‘Biscuits 'n' Gravy’ or ‘Change’, a powerful and spooky melodrama that has the kitsch sound of a cartoon voodoo ceremony.
‘Dreamer’ is an absolute belter to end with, a song so sonically befitting its subject matter that one forgives Kelis for not ending the album on a happier note. It is, however, those moments of soul, funk, and (frankly) joy that will be ringing in the ears for days after. If there's one conclusion that one can make having heard Food, it's that Kelis is still as cool as a cucumber.
Words: Ali Gardiner