Why did it take decades for R. Kellyto make a disco record? His pristine, emotive vocals and graceful productions would seem a natural fit for the heyday of roller skates and gold lamé -- not to mention his lyrical randiness. And that's certainly not a bad thing. On "Write Me Back," his second consecutive album to explore incandescent old-soul sounds, he might have made the best grown-man dance record of the year.
There are echoes of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway in Kelly's delivery this time, and the songwriting is, per usual at this point in his career, nimble and nicely matured. But the arrangements are the centerpiece here. These songs sidle up to you with four-on-the-floor beats at slower classic-disco speeds. Brittle funk guitars, flecks of congas and magic-hour string sections leave "Share My Love" and "Lady Sunday" positively aglow. He can still slow-burn a ballad like "Clipped Wings" without peer, but the lived-in uplift of "Write Me Back" finds him at a perfect sweet spot of nostalgia and modern skill.
"Write Me Back"
Three stars (out of four)