Picks and Pans Review: R. Kelly

updated 09/06/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Happy People/U Saved Me
Happy People:

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U Saved Me:

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If R. Kelly is looking for redemption—after facing child-pornography charges stemming from a videotape allegedly showing him having sex with an underage girl—then he just may find it with this, his second double album (following 1998's R. opus). Both Happy People and U Saved Me reveal the naughty-by-nature star aiming higher than his groin with uplifting messages that'll take you from Saturday night partying to Sunday morning praising.

Happy People, the superior of the two CDs, is filled with feel-good grooves that even your grandma could bop to and family-friendly lyrics that wouldn't make her cover her ears. Indeed, if it had been released earlier this summer, this would have been the disc to rock every backyard barbecue. Most of the songs, like the title track, follow in the footprints of Kelly's 2003 hit "Step in the Name of Love" and are designed for "stepping"—a form of R&B line-dancing that originated in the singer's Chicago hometown.

While Happy People convincingly casts Kelly as the pied piper of positive vibrations on the dance floor, U Saved Me paints him as a conflicted man seeking salvation from the Lord. Given his well-publicized troubles, it's hard to buy Kelly as a born-again thug on gospel songs like "Prayer Changes." And, though he scored a big hit with l996's "I Believe I Can Fly," he has never been at his best on inspirational numbers like "Spirit." Still, it's fascinating to listen to Kelly wrestle with his own demons here. It may not always make for great music, but it makes for great melodrama.

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