In case you have any trouble keeping your ex-Destiny’s Child members straight, Kelly Rowland is the one who’s not Beyoncé, and who doesn’t sing gospel.
You will really have no problem confusing her with the righteously inclined Michelle Williams after hearing Rowland’s determinedly raunchy new album, “Here I Am.” Its nearly nonstop admonitions to get down and dirty make even modern-day Beyoncé sound like Cece Winans.
If Rowland’s recent Lady Godiva-style nude photo shoots didn’t deliver a message about what direction she’d be headed with her third solo album, then “Motivation,” one of the summer’s biggest R&B hits, certainly did. She’s motivating a lover to “last more rounds” and “make mama proud,” warning him that “when we’re done, I don’t wanna feel my legs.” That sounds like a lot of pressure on both of them, but think of it as aspirational eroticism.
Cast as the boyfriend in "Motivation" is freshly sprung ex-jailbird Lil Wayne, whose deeply dirty guest rap takes a sudden interest in the condition of rainforests, despite Weezy’s previous lack of known environmental concerns.
Nearly all of the 10 songs on “Here I Am” focus exclusively on the singer’s all-consuming sexual needs, though love meekly rears its head toward the end of the album on an uncharacteristically tame ballad, “Keep It Between Us.”
Otherwise, Rowland has needs to be attended to, “in the middle of the bedroom, the kitchen or the hallway,” a floor plan she lays out in “All of the Night.” “The floor” again presents itself as her favorite surface in “Down for Whatever,” where she literally means "down" as in… ground-level.
Four of the tracks feature guest rappers who are willing to go even further in their pillow talk — or maybe that should be linoleum talk? — than Rowland. Besides Lil Wayne, the album features guest beaus Big Sean (who describes himself as “the king of the California kings,” and who has Rowland “hittin’ high notes — neighbors thought you’d joined the choir”), Lil Playy (“Why you dressing up? I’m trying to dress you down”), and Rico Love (“I don’t mean to impose, but what the clothes for?”).
Whether you care for this oversexed shtick or not, it is an identity — something it hasn’t always been clear Rowland possesses. She was dropped by Columbia after her second album stiffed, but Universal Motown picked her up and experimented with a few different styles to see what might click with the public her third time around.
The first three singles she released for the new label (“Rose Colored Glasses,” “Grown Ass Woman,” and “Forever and a Day”) all fared so poorly that, shockingly, they aren’t even included on "Here I Am" — which, at 10 songs in length, certainly had room for them. Searching for direction, she also recorded a slew of non-R&B electronic dance numbers, which accounts for the new album’s final two tracks, including “Commander,” her dance chart-topping collaboration with David Guetta. But in the end, the label steered her toward straight-ahead urban R&B, which seems wise, given the surprise success of “Motivation.”
Her new single, “Feeling Me Right Now,” is an ode to the greatest love of all, which is, as we all know, self-love. It describes her falling madly in love with her own image in the mirrors at a nightclub — like Narcissus on Viagra — and driving home to get it on with herself. It’s no “She-Bop,” but it’s mildly amusing, especially because half the guys dancing to it in clubs this summer won’t realize the lyrics are about how unnecessary they are.
The funniest moment, though — at least if it’s intentional — comes in the opening track, “I’m Dat Chick,” when Rowland sings, “I’m not cocky, I just love myself / You can’t buy a ring I can’t buy myself.” Is that declaration of independence a sly dig at Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”?
Anyhow, formerly demure, sweet-faced Rowland seems to have finally discovered her true post-Destiny’s Child destiny: borderline-ludicrous insatiabiity.