Like most of its predecessors, R. Kelly's eleventh album is stuffed to the gills, with 18-plus songs clocking in at 76 minutes (or longer, depending on which bonus track[s] your edition includes.) And if Double Up is, inevitably, far from flawless, the level of novelty and listenability Kelly manages to sustain for that duration is quite a feat. It makes this his best full-length in years -- arguably his best of the decade -- especially when you consider that its high points -- most notably the singles "I'm a Flirt [Remix]" and "Same Girl" -- rank among the licentious Chicagoan's very finest. Yes, Kelly's familiar, almost cartoonishly overstated brand of sex-obsessed misogyny is as rampant here as his increasingly eccentric humor -- more so than ever, on both counts. So if you're not of a disposition to stomach the 40-year-old (whose still-pending child pornography trial was set to commence several months after the album's release, before being delayed yet again) boasting about his plot to seduce a pair of "freaky" first cousins for a ménage à trois (in the title track), or warning listeners to steer their girlfriends clear of his restlessly prowling libido (in "Flirt": "the moral of this story is 'cuff your chick'"), this could be a painfully long and humorless listen, or worse. But cut the man a little slack, at least on record -- or allow him the indulgence of his already comically blatant perversity (at least he doesn't present himself as someone who expects to be taken very seriously) and it's either an absurd explosion of standard R&B tropes (nightclub bangers, baby-makin' slow jams, overwrought breakup songs) or simply a treasure trove of questionable-taste comedy gold. Actually, those aforementioned scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg, strictly routine in comparison to extended X-rated metaphors -- in the vein of "In the Kitchen" or "Ignition" (the original, not the remix) -- involving jungle animals (the brilliantly nutty, if somewhat misleadingly titled "The Zoo"), dessert ("Sweet Tooth"), and interstellar travel ("Sex Planet"), or hammy, convoluted mini-epics like "Same Girl," the one-sided argument "Real Talk," and the multi-player melodrama "Best Friend" (the closest this album comes to the preposterous serialized histrionics of the apparently endless "Trapped in the Closet" saga.) Subject matter aside (lets not even get into the incongruously inspirational Virginia Tech paean "Rise Up"), there's no denying that Kells is in top form production-wise. His occasional attempts at trend-jumping have somewhat mixed results -- the turgid metal guitars of "Rock Star," featuring Kid Rock; the menacing Southern-style synths of "Rollin'"; the fine but innocuous Caribbean-tinged "Freaky in the Club" -- though it doesn't help that these are also the album's least inspired moments conceptually and melodically. On the other hand, he cops 2007's production gimmick du jour, vocodered R&B vocals (à la T-Pain), to excellent effect on "Leave Your Name," a hilarious slice of lifestyle-boasting-as-overly-detailed-voice mail-message. But when he sticks to his somehow perennially fresh style of lush, laid-back, semi-organic, mid-tempo grooves, he's both unmistakable and untouchable. Even the album's parade of A-list guest stars (among them Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Chamillionaire, T.I., Ludacris, and Keyshia Cole), though it does help to keep things interesting, never threatens to overshadow the musical and vocal smoothness, and perversely compelling lyricism of the main event. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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