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R. Kelly

Happy People/U Saved Me (Jive/Zomba)

R. Kelly is the Bill Clinton of R&B -- a man who deals with scandal by tenaciously forging ahead. This two-CD package is enjoyably tuneful from a musical standpoint, but even better at remaking Kelly's image in the wake of child-porn charges. Far from spelling the end of his career, the set suggests that even photos of him getting horizontal with Osama bin Laden wouldn't shame him into retirement.

The first disc, Happy People, transforms Kelly from sexual obsessive to classic loverman with impressive deftness. The changes in attitude are noticeable, but his soulful vocals and the hookariffic melodies of songs such as "Weatherman" make the shifts seem beside the point. As for U Saved Me, it plays the Christianity card à la Slick Willie, who huddled with ministers right after Monicagate broke. On the astonishingly grandiose "3-Way Phone Call," about a different sort of three-way than Kelly usually salutes, guest vocalist Kelly Price assures him that "God will forgive you for your sins."

Of course, hearing R. croon, "I want you so bad, my pretty baby" on "The Greatest Show on Earth" is still kinda creepy -- but you'd better get used to it. Even if he's sent to prison, Kelly isn't going anywhere.

 
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