Kelly Rowland has become destined (no pun intended) to be the Jan to Beyoncé’s Marsha. Rowland can release two albums, score a No. 1 hit duet with Nelly, host a television show on Bravo and be one of the first to jump on the David Guetta phenomenon, but all Beyoncé needs to do is change her hairstyle to get blog writers going. Now, with the release of her third album, Here I Am, Rowland wants to finally get out from under Beyoncé’s shadow. Under new management, the album has 10 songs ready for teens’ iPods and radio playlists everywhere.
Under a menacing and stuttering beat, “I’m Dat Chick” is her mantra for the new Kelly: “I’m not cocky; I just love myself.” It’s an auspicious start. With the slinky, beeping synths of the first single, “Motivation,” she strikes a balance between crass and class, cooing “I just wanna feel your legs all over me.” Hot damn. On “Lay It On Me,” a beat laid over a piano melody bounces along to a catchy hook on the title.
The album begins to lose steam after that and falls back on R&B ballads. She sings about wanting to stay together (“Keep It Between Us”) or doing it all night long (“All of the Night”). They may be competently produced, but they feel indistinctive with no extra spark from Rowland. By the time Here I Am wraps up with the Guetta-produced “Commander” and Red One-produced “Down for Whatever,” the tracks feel perfunctory; a grab for a piece of the Euro-dance trend.
That gets to the problem with the album. Nowhere among the many, many producers and writers is Rowland’s name. Here I Am tries so hard to appease all sides of mainstream radio that it fails to distinguish Rowland from her many peers, such as Keri Hilson and Chrisette Michele. Until Rowland defines her music, she may have to keep on saying, “Beyoncé, Beyoncé, Beyoncé.”