Write Me Back is the latest evidence that R. Kelly has willingly ceded the R&B game’s pop throne. The longtime lothario is no longer hung up on fighting a losing battle against younger successors like The-Dream and Trey Songz, for whom he served as a clear-cut muse. Instead, he has plunged into a love affair with the ’60s and ’70s soul music on which he was raised — a love first displayed via 2010′s Love Letter, the pearly-voiced Pied Piper’s best release in years, (although it was slightly PG by the singer’s usual standards). Write Me Back is the cigar and cognac nightcap to Love Letter‘s candlelit dinner — a soul-toasting collection with a bit more grit and contemporary bravado than its predecessor.
Kelz wears his inspirations on his sleeve: “Love Is” and “Share My Love,” both swathed in double-vocal harmonies, bookend the album and pay homage — rather blatantly — to panty-dropping crooners such as Barry White and Teddy Pendergrass. If Kelly is partying (“Feelin’ Single”) this go-round, it’s a bit more tempered than what we’ve grown accustomed to. On the jilty, Jackson 5-ish “Fool For You” and the Motown-at-the-sock hop “All Rounds On Me” he even seems (gasp!) wholesome. But as with any Kelly release, there’s pungent cheese (“Party Jumpin’”), and all too often lyrics are an afterthought (“Girl dry your eyes, baby be strong/ Look at me, I’m gon’ really need you to be strong”). But this is a mood-over-message release; as Kelly himself notes in “Believe That It’s So,” it’s all about finding “strength in the groove.”