The new boss comes to town

Kelis switches things up on her new album, ‘Kelis Was Here’

Sara Nicole Miller

Kelis, that odd-sounding chick with a bizarre fascination for milkshakes, is back – this time sans Neptunes – with her fourth album, “Kelis Was Here.” Much of the album is a continuation of her third album, “Tasty,” with all its erotic food metaphors, bubble-gum funk, and throaty twang. But this time her album seems less cohesive and something more like a musically confused circus spectacle.

However, she is still a mistress of originality and experimental flavor. She uses her ambiguous musical talent to dabble in every electronically-produced genre, experimenting with everything from the old-school funk of “Till the Wheels Fall Off” to the synthesized, hard percussion-sauciness of “What’s That Right There.”

Kelis hit it big in 2003 with her Neptunes-produced hit “Milkshake,” which proved to the music world that quasi-femmed, husky-voiced fashionistas like Kelis could hold it down with a throaty, singsongy schoolyard taunt and dairylicious sexual innuendos. Her previous two albums, “Kaleidoscope” and “Wanderland,” got a lot of play in Europe, but it wasn’t until Kelis’ album “Tasty” hit stores that American audiences began devouring her in fleshy mouthfuls.

The album uses the production talent of heavy hitters such as Swizz Beatz, will.i.am, and Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-lo.

“Kelis Was Here” reflects the ambition and multilayered dynamism of a starry-eyed, love-struck, empowered sex-symbol type woman trying to feel out her own vibe in an industry that often encourages crass objectification, conformity and vulnerability in female artists.

Her hit single “Bossy” has all the blustery suppleness of a strong woman who knows what she wants; even the infamous p-i-m-p Too $hort, who is featured on the song, exclaims subservience to her. Also featured in the lyrics are taunty references to her previous hits “Caught out There” and “Milkshake,” in which she reminds you that “I’m the first girl to scream on a track / That’s right I brought all the boys to the yard.”

She also takes the time on her whirlwind of an album to express her disdain with celebrity culture in the song “Circus,” in which she pontificates on the follies of shallow glamour and show-y business with her line “We all wear masks / Lie to our fans and expect it to last.” In this song, she adamantly claims that she isn’t a rapper before abruptly embarking on a venture of rhyme-infused verbal diarrhea.

It becomes clear that her recent marriage to rapper Nas is still in its blissful honeymoon stage; many of her songs pay homage to her new life partner. A lot of the tracks possess a certain dreamlike ambience filled with layered vocals, twinkling piano keys and lyrics of adoration and commitment, all the while keeping it funky and different.

Although this album’s afterglow might not match up with the lip-licking welcome “Tasty” received, Kelis has proved

herself to be an eccentric, eclectic and complex female artist. Everything she lacks in vocal range and ability she makes up for in style and distinctiveness.