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R. Kelly

Happy People/U Saved Me (Jive)

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R. Kelly neutered is no more boring than R. Kelly with his hard-ons -- his ass-hounding was always by-the-numbers. Whether those numbers included 14-year-olds is something for the courts to ponder; this twin-disc I-didn't-molest-nobody record (better than Jacko's!) is more than enough for mulling. Happy People is all retro grooves and unintentionally comic "uplift" inspired by Marvin Gaye and Frankie Beverly. This is clear not because it hits those heights (well, Maze ain't a whole lot more butter than this) but because Kelly tells you so, just as he keeps insisting that love is important and that everybody needs to stop judging and -- this here's the subtext -- that no jury anywhere could resist someone so positive. The title track is a delight, despite a cutesy groove, kindergarten chants and your better judgment. Disc two, unfortunately, is "spiritual" and finds Kelly hauling in God as a character witness, which only confirms that we exist unloved in a cold, dead universe. But U Saved Me ain't bad. At its worst, it's as flip and dumb as Kelly's old let's-ball ballads, and at best it's like the puffy Stevie Wonder songs you tend to skip. But how is any of this piety supposed to change what's on that underage water-sports video? And why sing "I've Changed" if you're pleading not guilty? And, Christ, R. Kelly, why is this your best record?

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