Rowland's destiny manifests
Beyonce's former Destiny's Child bandmate stays grounded and bravely wears her heart on her sleeve in 'Talk a Good Game', one of the year's best R&B albums
KELLY ROWLAND/ TALK A GOOD GAME
Kelly Rowland may be best known as one of the founding members of the greatest '90s girl group Destiny's Child, but since the band's split in early 2006, she has gradually become a permanent figure in pop culture in her own right. While comparisons to her former bandmate Beyonce are inevitable, with three solo albums under her belt, chart-topping collaborations with people such as Nelly, Tinie Tempah and David Guetta as well as her stint as a judge on both British and US versions of the X Factor, she has truly come into her own as an artist and all-around entertainer.
After the success of her 2011 album, Here I Am, which spawned hit singles Motivation and Down For Whatever, Kelly spent the following year away from the recording studio, appearing in the movie, Think Like a Man, as well as being the face of several products from a watch to an alcoholic beverage. This year, however, sees Rowland getting back into the music game with what she describes as "her most personal album to date".
Helmed by a cohort of urban-savvy producers including Danja (Madonna's 4 Minutes, Britney Spears' Gimme More), The-Dream (Beyonce's Single Ladies, Rihanna's Umbrella) and Pharrell, Talk a Good Game is a collection of finely produced R&B ditties that could have appeared on Destiny's Child's later albums had the girls stuck together.
The album opens with Freak, a sexy, electro-pop affair backed by the male-dominated chorus semi-shouting: "Everybody is somebody's freak." The mid-tempo Kisses Down Low keeps the blatant sexual reference going strong with lines such as: "I like my kisses down low/Makes me arch my back/When you give it to me slow/Baby just like that." Red Wine treads a similar path with funky '80s-inspired synths.
But Talk a Good Game is not exclusively about the birds and the bees. Elsewhere, Kelly discusses the possibility of a relationship with guest rapper Kevin Cossom on the title track, and the end of one on Down On Love and Gone (featuring Wiz Khalifa), which samples Joni Mitchell's classic Big Yellow Taxi. There's also a mini Destiny's Child reunion on the contagiously melodic You Changed where Kelly, Beyonce and Michelle Williams showcase their ever-impressive harmonising skills.
The album's standout is hands down the brutally honest Dirty Laundry. Here, Kelly dives headlong into her insecurities, singing: "When you're soaked in tears for years, it never airs out/When you make pain look this good it never wears out." The singer then goes on to confront her deeply personal issues such as the band's breakup, her jealousy over Beyonce and, most important of all, an abusive relationship with her ex.
Like Kelly herself, Talk A Good Game is like a well-rounded entertainer that appeals to a wide range of audiences. While staying decidedly within the R&B territory, the album also cheekily winks at pop, retro soul and dance. The lyrical content, too, balances itself nicely between the sexually charged and the emotionally wrought. It's easily one of this year's best R&B albums from one of the most talented female R&B artists in the business.
Liberty/ Naree Rerng-rabum
Formed nearly 20 years ago, prog rock four-piece Liberty have come a long way since their college days. The quintet got a head start in the industry with a compilation album called IndyCafe on which they contributed two tracks alongside their labelmates. Following lukewarm feedback for their debut album Flying Tree, the local rockers are back with something a bit different _ a funk-inspired rocker called Naree Rerng-rabum (Dancing Ladies). As the title suggests, the song tells a story of "coyote" girls who, as frontman Arwin "Id" Raveeyan puts it, "sensuously shake their bodies, fulfilling the fantasy of lonely men".
Duck Sauce/ It's You
The masterminds behind smashing dancefloor anthem Barbara Streisand and Big Bad Wolf return with It's You, another effervescent jam that will put a silly grin on anyone's face. After a two-year hiatus, the renowned DJs A-Trak and Armand Van Helden have once again joined forces as disco-house duo Duck Sauce to do what they do best _ delivering a copious amount of fun. While it may not be as wildly contagious as their previous offerings, It's You will still get clubbers moving with its strong Basement Jaxx vibe, upbeat vocals and repetitive sample lifted straight from Motown's back catalogue.
Arctic Monkeys/ Do I Wanna Know?
After having gone bluesy on their last single R U Mine?, British indie rock quartet the Arctic Monkeys still have shifted their sound towards classic rock on their latest Do I Wanna Know? Unlike their previous hits that thrive on thunderous guitar riffs at break-neck speed, this track is carefully paced and teeming with creeping guitar lines. "Crawlin' back to you/Ever thought of calling when you've had a few?/'Cause I always do," Alex Turner drones on during the epic chorus aided by a dirty guitar riff.
Mikky Ekko/ Kids
Thanks to his excellent duet with Rihanna on her ballad, Stay, R&B crooner Mikky Ekko has instantly been put on many "one to watch" lists. His first single, Pull Me Down, has been making the rounds on the internet for the past couple of months, and now he's revealing another gem called Kids. Starting with wistful synths, the track _ said to be the first official single from his debut album _ expands into a feel-good pop affair that anyone can relate to. "Kids are gonna do what they want," he declares against percussion fused with electronic elements and strings.
Drake (featuring James Fauntleroy)/ On My Way
Canadian rapper Drake has consistently been dropping new tracks from his upcoming third album, Nothing Was the Same, since the beginning of this year. So far we've heard Started From the Bottom, followed by 5AM in Toronto and Girls Love Beyonce. His latest is a late-night R&B ballad on which the two take turns serenading the ladies. "Promise it's worth waiting for/Because I'm on my way," Drake sings as Fauntleroy re-affirms: "Don't be afraid If you fall right here in love with me in my bed I'll keep you safe, so safe."