Toronto
3 min

Hey Melissa

Don't mess with Darcel

LUCKY. Melissa Etheridge's new CD isn't. Credit: Xtra files

The screaming banshee with the rainbow ‘fro is gone. A new Kelis has arrived. She’s soft and glossy and sporting a hickey on the cover of Tasty, her new album of lovely, sensual R & B. It recalls the late-1970s, early ’80s sounds of forgotten sweet things, Evelyn Champagne King, Stephanie Mills and Patrice (forget-me-nots) Rushen. The minimalist funk, abstract electro and flirtatious beats and lyrics go down real good. This is an album that demands you to shake your money-maker. And you will. The songs are infectious.



The album starts with a sleazy porn track as Kelis feeds a boy crunchies and drinkies. We hear them giggle and coo as she tempts him. “Now taste this,” she demands. The Neptunes-produced “Milkshake” has got to be the first great single of 2004. This raunchy tune with chunky beats is perfect dance pop. Kelis’s vampish delivery is compelling. “I can see you’re on it/ You want me to teach the/ Techniques that freaks these boys/ It can’t be bought/ Just know thieves get caught.” Clever girl.



This 24-year-old gets down and dirty with fiancé Nas on “In Public.” Static electric funk accompanies this duet about having sex in club bathrooms, planes and balconies. Nas supplies the ridiculous rhymes. “The pussy or the mouth/ That is the question/ Like Shakespeare/ But my erection is the case here.” Ain’t love grand.



Darcel, Solid Gold’s Cleopatra of dance, would explode with joy if she got the chance to boogie to the divine “Flashback,” a booty wiggler with cowbells, sonic beats and a juicy chorus, “Yeah, yeah/ Ooo, you make my body go.” Kelis is in lovey, dovey land. “The thought of sex is soaring/ Like a plane.”



Outkast’s flirty shit disturber Andre 3000 co-wrote and produced “Millionaire,” a bizarre ode to the trials of being rich. He joins Kelis as they sing to a straight-forward but somewhat inventive beat. “I’m feeling sad/ Like a million bucks.” Kelis has a pleasant, sultry non-voice – there’s nothing unique about it and as the album comes to the last few songs you swear Anita Baker and Lauryn Hill have taken over some of the singing duties. Listen to the compelling and touching “Rolling Through The Hood,” it could easily have been on The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. But that’s a minor quibble.



Producers The Neptunes (they produced her first two albums), Raphael Saadiq (of Toni Tony Tone and Lucy Pearl), Dallas Austin and writer Pharrell Williams (NERD) help Kelis on her female empowerment journey. They fill the album with streamlined rhythms and a bawdy sense of humour that lets her shine. She enjoys being a girl. Just don’t fuck with her.



***

The title track of Melissa Etheridge’s new album, Lucky (out Tue, Feb 10) starts with a high-strung guitar riff. It’s nice enough but when Etheridge starts spouting her adolescent pronouncements, she kills the song dead. This is an album of tired bar-band, meat-and-potatoes rock (more like wieners and beans). Mindless drivel.



Here she is happily married to Tammy Lynn Michaels, has great kids, millions of dollars and she’s still a pill. All the embarrassing self-obsessed poetry we wrote as kids set to a yawnfest of pedestrian rhythms. It’s a Kim Carnes meets The Traveling Wilburys experience – and nobody needs that.



Radio friendly “Breathe” will be a huge hit. It’s well structured and cliché filled. “I’m alright/ It only hurts when I breathe.” Then on the next song “Mercy,” she exclaims, “It hurts to walk/ It hurts to talk.” I think she needs medical attention!



But the line that makes me cringe the most (and there are many), instead of telling us she’s 40 years old, has her boasting, “Well, I have lived 10 years plus 10 and 10 and 10 again.” What’s the point of a lyric like that?



She gets it right on the head-banging ZZ Top-inspired “Secret Agent.” It’s the most inspired track because it’s not all about her. It’s a solid piece of mindless cock rock. “All the boys want to know if she has something to hide/ All the girls are relieved she’s working for the other side.”



Most of the songs are all drama-puss love-ridden with longing, a tad of hope and lots of dark inner turmoil. Etheridge has always grasped at the untouchable artistic level of Springsteen, and so, takes a stab at a 9/11 tune. “Tuesday Morning” has its heart in the right place. It’s about Flight 93’s gay hero Mark Bingham and America’s refusal to acknowledge gay marriage and accept openly gay teachers. “He loved his mom/ He loved his dad/ He loved his home/ And he loved his man/ Is he less of a hero than the other three.” The simple human beauty of Bingham’s sacrifice is lost as Etheridge takes on God fearing, gay hatin’ America. Sentimental sediment.



Etheridge tries some ill-advised experimental funk and steals a Nirvana riff, but mostly sticks to her tired formula. It’s just never clever. Darcel and I are not impressed. We’ve got to get down on it.



TASTY.

Kelis.

BMG. $16.99.



LUCKY.

Melissa Etheridge.

Universal. $14.99.