Kelly Rowland makes a triumphant return with her new album
Here I Am
A year ago, Kelly Rowland's career was in bad shape. After releasing two solo albums that failed to deliver on her undeniable talent, she was cut loose by Columbia Records.
This came with an extra sting: the label is also home to her Destiny's Child bandmate Beyoncé Knowles, whose own albums continued to sell by the truckload.
The difference between Rowland and Beyoncé is not that one is vocally superior to the other. Instead, with each of her releases, Knowles has carried a clear artistic vision. This has allowed her to achieve a cohesive feel on her albums, which in turn gives listeners a lot to indulge in with repeated listens.
Rowland placed more trust in producers than her own muse, and the result was her debut, Simply Deep, which came off as fluffy and lightweight. On the follow-up Ms Kelly, Rowland made an attempt to please the masses by mixing funk, R&B and hip-hop - but it turned out messy and sounded forced.
But now another producer has helped get Rowland's career back on track.
While on holiday in the south of France, Rowland met French DJ David Guetta. Their resulting 2009 collaboration on the single When Love Takes Over conquered international dance charts.
It's hard not to view the song as a watershed moment for Rowland. Where before she seemed to follow musical trends, Guetta's thumping beats and blazing synths allowed a euphoric sounding Rowland to do what she does best: freely belt it out.
Now with Rowland's third album and a new record label, she is finally calling the shots. Here I Am is a lean 10-song collection of up-tempo dance and R&B tracks designed for the dance floor.
The opener, I'm Dat Chick, is a slamming statement of intent. Over darting synths and stuttering beats, Rowland sings: "I am not cocky, I just love myself/You can't buy a ring I can't buy myself" - the first of many put-downs she dishes out to the lads.
Turn It Up demonstrates Rowland's skill at fusing dance with R&B - with a vocally acrobatic verse reminiscent of Destiny's Child just before a booming dance chorus.
Rowland doesn't totally abandon her R&B and urban roots, however. The album boasts guest appearances by the likes of rappers Lil Wayne and Big Sean. The former appears in the moody Motivation, which is perfectly sequenced, providing a respite from the dance tracks. And "the King of California Kings", Big Sean, adds some street-cred to summery Lay It on Me.
But these are mere pit stops as the album storms home with tracks by Europe's biggest dance producers. Guetta teams up again with Rowland for Commander, a hot and sweaty ode to the dance floor that has already hit the top of European dance-music charts; and RedOne's contribution brings proceedings to a stomping close with the album's hardest dance track: Down for Whatever.
The album may be dotted with high-profile guests and producers, but Here I Am is, in the end, the work of Rowland's own artistic vision.
She may have been stuck in the musical wilderness for a while, but Rowland is now back to add some much-needed competition to the female R&B landscape.
Over to you, Beyoncé.
Published: August 3, 2011 04:00 AM