"This album was designed to touch your soul and put your spirit at ease," Kelly announces at the beginning of Happy. And apparently souls really are all he wants to touch these days -- Kelly never sounds like a filthy-minded horndog here, on his most PG-rated party album yet. No talking about going half on a baby or rhapsodizing about the best sex he's ever had. ("The Greatest Show on Earth," a Marvin Gaye-esque slow jam, comes close, but that turns out to be a baby-maker even the Moral Majority could endorse.) This is R. Kelly for the whole family; it could be the original score to Step in the Name of Love: The Musical.
If Happy sounds straight from Broadway, then Saved sounds like a collection of songs from the gospel plays that put black people in theater seats all over this nation. Certain to be a favorite for churchgoing mothers everywhere, Saved finds Kelly repenting for all his backsliding and dirt-doing. But what, exactly, has he done? He's never admitted anything through his recent travails (he's been accused of having sex with a minor), at least not in court or in the media. Why this need to rebuke Satan so vigorously? Whatever it is he's done, he wants you to know that he's very, very sorry.
And Saved also shows that Kelly hasn't lost his touch for glorious melodrama. The seven-minute opener "3-Way Phone Call" is another of Kelly's character-driven, singing-conversation numbers, with Kelly calling his big sis (played by Kelly Price) for advice and ending up getting guidance from her and one of her friends (Kim Burrell). The title track that follows it is another histrionic ditty, with Kelly assuming the role of a ghetto Job whose faith in Christ gets him through a drunk-driving crash, four gunshot wounds and a bout with cancer. (Man, that dude's unlucky!)
Happy People/U Saved Me may show us an R. Kelly who thinks with his heart and his mind and not his -- well, let's just call it "little Robert." While this might look good to potential jurors, you know his old fans will want to hear from the brilliant-freakazoid side of him once in a while. Just as long as he doesn't hurt nobody -- or videotape himself pissing on any more little girls.