Hey you guys,
It's rare that a song sums up just about everything that's fascinating and contradictory and relevant and right and wrong about an artist in three or four minutes. But R. Kelly's casually brilliant "Leave Your Name", a standout track from Double Up, does just that. I've been obsessed with it for the past couple of weeks and would like to take a crack at explaining why I find it so queasily compelling. "Leave Your Name" takes the form of extended answering machine message that doubles as a stark confession from a man stumbling blearily out of control.
Proud and more than a little pathetic, celebratory and deeply, unmistakably sad, the song acknowledges that if Kelly isn't picking up his phone it's probably because he's "been out partying all night" and is "blasted off that Hennessy". "Leave Your Name" begins squarely in the too-much-information zone and gets more queasily intimate and self-pitying with each successive line.
Before Kelly gets through even a single verse he's copping to "throwing up and carrying on" before segueing into the tragi-comic image of himself drunkenly falling to the floor as he unsteadily staggers up his stairs. The song's chorus admonishes callers/listeners that Kelly will get back to you once he's not "faded", "smokin' on some trees" or "Making a baby".
Things grow even darker in the second verse. He cops to "pushing on people and starting fights". It gets so bad that people are saying "Kellz is a hot mess", a line that's funny and weirdly touching, voyeuristic and uncomfortably candid. There's a casual, unself-conscious softness to Kelly's delivery that amplifies its heartrending vulnerability. It's the work of a man taking a long, hard look in the mirror and recoiling in horror from what he sees.
Is it a cry for help or an unusually melancholy defense of his lifestyle? Is it self-aggrandizement masquerading as self-pity or the other way around?
Kelly's albums tend to be all over the place but I keep coming back to them for the exhilarating currents of dark-night-of-the-soul honesty coursing through songs like "Leave Your Name". Late in the song Kelly turns defensive and self-righteous when he sings "If you think I'm screening calls you're motherfucking right/That's for the haters/I return calls to all the girls I like". But the image of a refreshed and sober Kelly manning up and handling grown-folks business doesn't register nearly as strongly as earlier lines about drunkenly passing out on his stairs and being too wasted to open the door to his Benz. The fact that the dude stumbling drunkenly from club to club and fight to fight is a forty-year-old father just makes the whole thing sadder.
There's a world of sadness and regret seeping through every line. It's hard to tell whether Kelly ultimately wants listeners to party with him or stage an intervention on his behalf. Incidentally, I was nearly done with this piece when I noticed that Amelie had also blogged about Kelly. The timing is purely coincidental. I can assure readers that The A.V Club is not, in fact, turning into a R. Kelly message board or anything.