The Pied Piper of medieval legend led an entire rodent scourge from an infested town simply by playing his instrument. When the town refused the Piper his promised reward, the Piper played his tune again, this time leading away all the town’s children — perhaps becoming history’s most influential child molester.
R Kelly produced, wrote, and arranged 11 of the 12 songs on the Isley Brothers’ (Ronald on lead vocals and Ernie on guitar) latest record. Kelly also dons a new identity here — the Pied Piper. How fitting. Especially considering his legendary ability to, ahem, entice young R&B fans.
Therein lies the purpose, and ultimate failing, of the R Kelly/Isley Brothers alliance. Their collaboration is an attempt at hip cred, to woo the hip-hop demographic Kelly so decisively commands. The result is material that leaves Ronald Isley, er, Mr. Biggs, out of place on his own record.
Why? Because Ronald Isley is an old man. I’m not sure how old, but he’s too old to sing lines like “I like cash, clothes, and chicks/I like fancy shopping strips/I like Cristal in my cup/I Like wildin’ out in clubs” as he does on “I Like” which features, of all people, Snoop Dogg.
Instead of tailoring his writing, Kelly feeds the brothers lyrics he would sing himself and Ronald Isley becomes a lap puppet for Kelly’s trademark nonsensically laughable metaphors involving overt sex talk and materialism.
The record has its strong points. The production is solid, if at times syrupy. Also, Mr. Biggs’ voice is as pure and inviting as ever. But ultimately the Isleys fail to assert their legendary artistic identity, instead deferring to an artist at least three decades their junior.
The Isley Brothers are R&B icons. They should be setting trends not following them — or, should we say, being led.
Noah B. Stephens writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].