I have to begin this by saying that it took some effort — I’m talking several listenings — before this album started to grow on me. I think it’s because I am so in love with her last album, Flesh Tone, and I wanted her to make another futuristic electro-pop album like that. So, when Food turned out to be the complete opposite, being a very organic record, I was naturally disappointed. But, hey, it’s Kelis and she’s always fantastic, so I forced myself to keep listening and listening to this record and now I love it.
In the U.S. the album opens with “Jerk Ribs,” followed by “Breakfast,” which makes no sense to me. I mean, you’d eat breakfast before you’d eat ribs, so it feels like “Breakfast” should be first if for no other reason than that. But, more importantly, “Breakfast” begins with a little girl talking and I always feel like you should open with the song that begins with some talking if you’re going to put such a song on an album. A little chatter never fails to make an interesting opening, ya know? Fortunately, in the U.K. they put “Breakfast” first. So, now that I want to own this album on vinyl, I’m definitely buying it from the U.K.
I can kind of understand why they wanted “Jerk Ribs” first in the U.S. though. It is a catchier track and probably the closest thing on the album to the Flesh Tone record. But I still prefer my “Breakfast” first. (And, technically, I wouldn’t eat jerk ribs unless they were made of tofu, having been a vegetarian since 1993.)
“Hi guys, are you hungry, my mom made ___,” the little girl says at the beginning of “Breakfast.” Of course, she doesn’t say the word blank, but I can’t quite understand the word that she says, hence my typing it that way. “Welcome to the world / This is the real thing we’ve got,” goes the chorus, which is just another reason it should be first. I mean, it’s a fucking welcome song for fuck’s sake. Besides, it is a great tune spiced up with lots of shimmering horns, a warm and inviting melody, and wonderful harmonies. As for “Jerk Ribs,” it opens with a lively if not hypnotic bass line and features a peppy beat and super smooth vocals, along with more great horns, so it’s a winner all around.
Now, let’s move on to track three, shall we? It’s called “Forever Be” and it features a simple but wholly infectious piano part that Kelis adds wonderful emotional lustre to. But the strings are what really make it shine, swirling around in the background like the simple but crucial lights on a Christmas tree.
“Floyd” is an instant classic of a ballad with a down and dirty tempo and sweet, ethereal vocals. “I want to be blown away,” Kelis sings and you can picture her on a stage clouded with pillows of smoke in an old jazz club. And you can’t help but think of some of the great female jazz singers — like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone — when you listen to it. It totally sounds like a tune from that era.
Getting back to the “food” department, “Cobbler” is a bit of an unusual song with lots of clapping but very minimal percussion, which amounts to jittery little clicks and clanks. The clapping is great, but I think it would have been better off without much of the other percussion up until the end when it would seem to add bongos to the mix. Those bongos rock, but those little sounds are like an itch on your back that you try to scratch but just can’t reach.
Elsewhere, “Friday Fish Fry” begins with electric guitar that’s almost in the surf guitar vein. It sounds a bit like a James Bond Theme song, too. “Give me what I want / Give me what I need / I’m begging you please / I’m down on my knees,” goes the chorus of the sultry number. Clearly, this one isn’t actually about food, using “fish fry” as some sort of sexual metaphor. Trust me, it’s hot. But about two-thirds into the song she does an unexpected call and response part with some male background singers. “I need ice cold water,” she sings and then they sing “she needs ice cold water.” The odd thing is that this part subtracts from the sexiness of it all, almost sounding comical. Fortunately, it goes back to the steamy chorus after that, sucking you right back in and ending things on a perfect note.
“Give me patience and I’ll wait,” Kelis sings during the first verse of “Dreamer,” the album’s moody closing track, which has an air of The Beatles about it. This one also has a stunning chorus that will make your heart stop. Ultimately, the song serves as a nice epilogue for what is an instantly delicious and lastingly nutritious meal of an album.