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Kelly Rowland 

Ms. Kelly (Columbia)

The genesis of Kelly Rowland's sophomore album is a sad commentary on the aesthetic currently choking R&B. The singer and member of Destiny's Child allegedly recorded an earlier version of the disc, a meditation on the end of a serious relationship, then thought better of releasing it. Rowland later suggested that the recordings were too uniform and depressing. But the same could be said of numerous R&B masterpieces, including Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Mary J.'s What's the 411? Consistency-equals-boring is a prevailing concept in modern urban music, and it has had lethal consequences. Case in point: Ms. Kelly devolved into the usual multi-producer collection of potential singles, designed to appeal to as many consumers as possible. The results are predictably hit-or-miss. The club cuts — added to show Rowland's young 'n' fun side — are derivative; Scott Storch's "Work" is Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" four years later. Unsurprisingly, it's the broken-hearted ballads — most notably, the brutal "Still in Love with My Ex" — that show Rowland can be more than just the latest one-name soul singer, following in her old bandmate's massive, spike-heeled footsteps.

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