For a while it seemed that Bilal was destined to be a bridesmaid, but never a bride. Since the release of his debut in 2001, the Philadelphia-based soul singer appeared on more guest spots than albums of his own. (His 2006 album, Love For Sale, was shelved and then subsequently leaked.) Now resurfacing four years post-Lovegate, a debacle that left Bilal disillusioned with the music industry and wrung dry of creativity, he has returned with a newfound focus and widened scope to his sound.

Airtight’s Revenge sheds the sensual love songs that marked Bilal’s early career, aiming, instead, for a layered sound that’s heavy on guitars and near-rock-opera dramatics. It’s a complex listen that strays from the tropes of standard R&B. Seeing as though the last official word we heard from the singer was nine years ago, naturally Airtight’s Revenge represents his evolution. With a boost behind the controls from producers including Nottz, Shafiq Husayn, 88-Keys and Steve McKie (who was instrumental in encouraging Bilal to take his tunes from GarageBand and into the studio), Bilal is toying with jazz, rock and R&B.

Lyrically, the collection is not just about romantic love anymore, since Bilal is a family man now. Instead he explores topics both personal (“Little Ones” is about fatherhood) and institutional (“Who Are You” questions religion and “Robots” questions the government). The odd love song appears on the album too, but Airtight’s Revenge finds Bilal appealing to the head and not just the heart.