I root for Kelly Rowland hard. She’s gorgeous as I don’t know what, blessed with a fantastic singing voice, and has an affable girl-next-door quality that’s somewhat reminiscent of Janet Jackson in her late teens and early twenties. Unfortunately, Kelly has had to play second fiddle to you-know-who for her entire career (hint: she’s married to Jay-Z and her name rhymes with “Fiance”). It’s one of those “lucky-but-unlucky” scenarios that tends to occur with refugees from singing groups/bands that have an obvious “star” even though other members have considerable talent (see: Chasez, JC).
That said, the material that Kelly’s chosen (or has been given) throughout her solo career hasn’t done her any favors. The two albums she’s released up until now (Simply Deep and Ms. Kelly) have been inconsistent, to put it charitably. Even now, with her single “Motivation” (another track I’m not crazy about) recently completing a stint atop the R&B singles chart, I’ve had doubts that Kelly would be able to put together a solid statement as a solo artist.
My doubts were confirmed after just one listen to Here I Am, Rowland’s third and latest solo effort, and they were further locked in with successive hearings. If you want a textbook primer on generic pop ‘n B, this is it. If you want quality lyricism or good song structure, I think you should look elsewhere.
The ten song effort (there’s a deluxe version with extra tracks) starts off with several tracks of standard “hip-hop/R&B” (in parentheses because there’s little hip-hop, rhythm, or blues on any of these tracks) on which Kelly’s paired with a variety of emcees, none of whom make any kind of splash. There’s a Rihanna rip (“Lay it On Me”) and a borderline Beyonce copy with “I’m Dat Chick” (the fact that Christopher “Tricky” Stewart-who co-helmed both “Single Ladies” and “Run The World (Girls)” was involved might have something to do with that). It’s all extremely derivative, to the point where you wonder if titling the album Here I Am was some kind of joke. The lyrics are boilerplate top 40 fare, finding Kelly flaunting her sex appeal over tracks that have as much eroticism to them as a bag of Chex Mix.
The album ends with “Commander” and “Down 4 Whatever”, two tracks that make the case for Rowland as a dance/pop diva. They’re very much in line with recent Euro-centric tracks by the likes of Usher, and are as disposable. If you’re not under strobe lights, there’s probably not much of a chance that either of these tracks are going to do much for you.
There are also two downtempo tracks. Rapper Rico Love ruins the hypnotic slow jam “All of the Night” with references to his “python” (seriously? Is the art of mystery dead in contemporary popular songwriting?), and as for “Keep it Between Us”…zzzZZZZZZ…huh, what? I fell asleep.
Look, I have no problem spitting bile when I have to. However, I don’t want to do it to Kelly. Like I said, I want the woman to win (I think she deserves it). However, Here I Am is her third album, and in terms of quality, the trajectory of her records has been: halfway decent—awful—awful. While “Motivation” has given her a hit in the short term, what do they say about short term decisions screwing up long term goals? A hit single is a great thing, but I don’t see Here I Am being a major hit album. It’s certainly not a work of any quality-it’s completely generic and, even more regrettably, passionless. Those people that do buy it will eventually either cast it to the wastelands of their hard drives, or sell it directly back to the place they bought it from, where it will soon live in the 99-cent bin alongside Rowland’s two other albums.