MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The singer Kelis is best known for her 2003 hit "Milkshake."
(Soundbite of song, "Milkshake")
Ms. KELIS (Musician): (Singing) My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and they're like, it's better than yours, damn right, it's better than yours. I could teach you, but I have to charge...
NORRIS: After that song, she had more misses than hits on the charts before dropping out of the music industry entirely. Now, Kelis is back as a disco diva and new mom with her new album. It's called "Flesh Tone." Our reviewer Jessica Hopper says it's an inspired return to music.
JESSICA HOPPER: Four years ago, Kelis, the colorful club-rap diva, stepped out of the spotlight to pursue real life. She got married, started a family and pursued a degree from the Cordon Bleu.
Then a few months ago, Kelis was suddenly back in the spotlight, though it wasn't for her music. She was filing for divorce from her husband, the rapper Nas, while seven months pregnant. Together, the two were seemingly hip-hop's coolest couple.
Amidst their well-publicized split, Kelis headed back into the studio, pregnant and determined to put herself back on the musical map. The result is her comeback album "Flesh Tone."
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. KELIS: (Singing) You draw me in. Every time I think I'm free, you win. Just like a sin, when I know it's wrong but still begin...
HOPPER: The album's disco-y sound is a departure for Kelis, but what is more surprising is what isn't there. It's not the messy breakup album you'd expect, given her situation. The closest she gets to addressing her own struggles is on "Emancipate," where she doles out Oprah-esque survivor aphorisms over driving house music.
(Soundbite of song, "Emancipate")
Ms. KELIS: (Singing) Like a phoenix from the ashes...
HOPPER: Much of "Flesh Tone" is made up of love songs about the newest man in Kelis' life: her son. When she sings about her baby, she means it literally. On "Acapella," she mixes nautical and orchestral metaphors to describe how motherhood has taught her the true meaning of love.
(Soundbite of song, "Acapella")
Ms. KELIS: (Singing) I was walking, was living, my melody was acapella. There's a beat I was missing, no tune or a scale I could play. No sound in the distance, no orchestra playing together. Like a boat out to sea, the silence was too deafening. So come and revive me, I'll give you my heartbest, it's just me surviving alone. Before you, my whole life was acapella...
HOPPER: With her husky voice, Kelis is a natural disco diva. She sounds much more comfortable cooing about motherhood and finding herself than she ever did rapping about sex or money. You can hear that she has something to prove to us or maybe herself.
This album bursts with love, nowhere more so than the final track, "Song for the Baby," a summer disco anthem composed as an open letter to her son. Listening, it's not hard to imagine her swaying under a glittering disco ball, her baby in her arms.
(Soundbite of song, "Song for the Baby")
Ms. KELIS: (Singing) So I'm writing this letter to you, baby, just like my mother told me. She always said say yes before you say no and say maybe...
NORRIS: The new album from Kelis is called "Flesh Tone." Reviewer Jessica Hopper writes for the Chicago Reader.
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