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Kelis' career has been a study in left turns, it seems like every album she released has drastically differed from its precursors. Like a lot of R&B-ish female singers who defy the label of pure "pop" and actually try to experiment with form and genre, Kelis has struggled with commercial success. On Food, her sixth full-length, it feels like she finally let go of the concept of "success" and just cooked up something she wanted to make. If the food motif throws fans, then they haven't been paying close attention: Tasty was the album that helped solidify her as an artist and a song called 'Milkshake' was what earned her industry accolades. But that was eleven years ago, and Nas is no longer the lead cook in this kitchen. Actually, whether you're #TeamNas (I am) or not, it feels good to hear the woman who became famous for undulating all over a counter put on the chef's hat herself and take charge of the whole place. And this isn't a diner anymore—it's a classy place and the Food is great (SORRY).

Kitchen jokes aside, settling into a slow and classic soul groove seems to fit Kelis better than the hype-assists of The Neptunes that started her career, or the rap collaborations, or even Flesh Tone's foray into dance music back in 2010. The opening track for the record 'Breakfast' is a jubilant embrace of new beginnings and the self-assurance that comes from being loved through the late night partying all the way through the bleary-eyed morning meal. The girl-group "oooh ahhs" and funky horn lines on the chorus buoy the song out of the realm of cliché into full-blown fantastic. It's not a pop hit by any means, but I dream of the opening montage in a quirky rom com that this song could background. In fact, the way that this album was recorded sounds like it could be out of a movie itself—Kelis, Dave Sitek and various musical guests all chilling in a big old house, making food and music simultaneously, with little distinction between creation, consumption and recording.



There's a sense of the family meal and communal tradeoffs on the album. 'Jerk Ribs', 'Cobbler' and 'Biscuits n' Gravy' channel the warm comfort of their namesakes. 'Ribs' has a great, galloping beat that Kelis sings all over, and though it's video was a little tepid, the track itself revels in the experimentation of a funk classic and 'Cobbler' layers a live laughter intro with the decadence and electricity of new lust in love. 'Biscuits n' Gravy' might be the track that best sums up the direction of Food though, driven just by Kelis and a piano for two thirds of the song, it blossoms into a brass breakdown that's reminiscent of jazz big band freestyles. Marrying reflection on the inconsistency of life with a choice to celebrate that uncertainty, Kelis sings about renewal without faux-happiness or deep bitterness. She sounds like a woman who has a subdued yet powerful understanding that letting go is the best way to regain strength.

Food offers bluesy, funky peeks into Kelis reclaiming her life after the trauma of a particularly messy and demanding divorce. On the other side of it though, she sounds happy—which isn't something that we've necessarily come to expect from Kelis. Self-assured and eager to fall in love again, lasciviously flirt or demand what she wants, as on 'Friday Fish Fry', there's also traces of the pain that she faced down when her marriage to Nas ended. "No don't be foolish / no one keeps their promise" she sings on album closer 'Dreamer', the closest thing to a kiss-off on the album that's interlaced with Mariachi-like beat and fanfares of clicks, snaps and horns. The saltiness in the song is just another seasoning on the album that's about Kelis, not about bitterness. In fact, the best track on the record might be the endearing, nearly-twee duet 'Bless the Telephone' that parlays the pain of a long distance relationship into a pleasure mediated by the convenience of the phone.

Food feels like a full-fledged look at the life, pleasures and pains of Kelis, something none of her old records ever really delivered.

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