R. Kelly, "Love Letter"

76 Billboard Rating

"This album is dedicated to the girls who stood beside me," R. Kelly sings in the a cappella introduction to his latest studio album, "and even all the bootleggers that couldn't afford to buy me." A characteristic bon mot from the Pied Piper of R&B-and yet much of "Love Letter" seems designed to confound our expectations about a new Kelly album. In stark contrast with last year's wonderfully lewd "Untitled," "Love Letter" is a relatively chaste retro-soul set that Kelly says was influenced by the old-school work of Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. "Can I bring the love songs back to the radio?" he asks during "Lost in Your Love." And his question says a lot about the openly nostalgic vibe of cuts like the winsome title track and lead single "When a Woman Loves," the latter recalling the Percy Sledge hit with which it almost shares a name. Given Kelly's absurdly effortless melodic flair, the result certainly satisfies. But "Love Letter" could use more of his effortless absurdity.

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