For an impression of how things change, take a look at the two new Isley Brothers CDs currently on sale at your local Best Buy: Body Kiss, the veteran R&B act's new DreamWorks album, and Legacy's reissue of 3+3, the band's classic 1973 LP. Six impassioned-looking young men stare out from the cover of 3+3, each in distinctive period garb, each attempting to convince you of the headiness of the music inside; on Body Kiss' jacket, it's just Ronald and Ernie Isley, the two remaining Brothers, resplendent in sophisticated-pimp dress but saddled with a dignified melancholy, as if aware that their music has been sapped of its once-sizzling social import, supplanted in the marketplace by the often-perfunctory routines of calculating crooners 40 years their junior.
But if the Isleys aren't who they used to be, the surprisingly sharp Body Kiss suggests that they can be whomever they want. Written, arranged and produced almost in its entirety by beleaguered R&B kingpin R. Kelly, the CD is a master class in svelte loverman etiquette. While his peers Timbaland and the Neptunes disrupt even their most streamlined productions with little sonic burrs, Kelly maintains an admirable commitment to smooveness, and Ronald takes full advantage: In opener "Superstar," he dictates a personal ad to his diary over a reserved wah-wah groove, and near the end of "Lucky Charm" he finally dispenses with metaphor and informs his lady friend that she's "magically delicious" -- arguably a first for a 62-year-old man.
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A few times Ronald works his bad-guy Mr. Biggs persona against the music. "Busted" is a thrilling remake of Kelly and Sparkle's "Be Careful" with JS (whoever the hell she is) in which Ronald interrogates a lover he suspects has been stepping out and then kicks her to the curb. And when Ernie drops a sweetly coruscating guitar solo into "Take a Ride," it's proof that svelte loverman etiquette needn't adhere to type.