Gemini: How Brian McKnight Got His Groove Back

Truthfully, there are quite a few artists in the music industry that would be a lot better off recording EP’s of their material rather than full-length albums. Sure, they have the talent and charisma necessary to carry their singles over well but when it comes to full-length recordings, they don’t fare so well when it comes to holding the listener’s attention. For quite a long time, I classified Brian McKnight into that category.

Out of the 9 albums bearing his name that I’d heard, I felt that Anytime and Back At One had their choice moments and were good for an occasional spin, Superhero was a bit bland and lukewarm in its execution, and that U Turn’s biggest sign of a pulse came from Nelly and Nelly alone. So I deduced that Brian McKnight was nothing more than a slapdash lothario who had peaked and now been reduced to recording B-list bedroom jams, none of which substantial enough to populate a whole album.

Then I heard the lead single from Brian’s latest project, Gemini, and I felt obligated to sit up and pay attention to Brian McKnight one last time. The jazzy motif of the smooth R&B mid-tempo number gave me more than an inkling that Brian may have finally been able to recapture his past glory. But considering his albums had been nothing but a steady decline in terms of quality, I was still too skeptical to follow my hunches.

But once I learned the premise of this album, and had my boy Mike’s seal of approval slapped on, I knew this was one worth checking out. Originally intended as a double-disc, Gemini is a single-disc effort showcasing the 2 sides of Brian McKnight; Brian himself, the sensitive loverman who can woo women with the greatest of ease and his other, perhaps better, half Cravin Morehead, a poised lothario with swagger for days. All that’s left to find out is if Brian has recaptured his long lost groove or if it’s verified that he never really had one to begin with.

The intro, Stay With Him, is definitely Cravin’s territory because Brian himself would never be so cold and uncouth to a woman as to toy with an involved woman’s heart, only to leave her once she catches feelings. The acapella, doo-wop vocal performance is a nice touch but I think Brian, I mean Cravin, will lose points with his female audience on this one.

However, he’ll gain those points right back with one listen to the suave lead single, What We Do Here. Easily one of the smoothest singles Brian’s released, the jazzy overtones, with excellent bassline and live percussion, give the song an added swagger that perfectly complements Brian’s rather forward lyrics, which seem him trying to arrange a pre-show tÃ?ªte-Ã? -tÃ?ªte (if you will) between him and a lady friend. Brian’s vocal performance is also one of his more controlled and smooth performances, completely deserving of the Grammy nomination it garnered (for my money, I think it should’ve won).

But for those longing for one of those pure and unadulterated love songs that only Brian can do, 2nd single Everytime You Go Away will suit them just fine. Brian’s formula is firmly intact here; soothing Quiet Storm production, with pensive keys, plaintive strings and a killer electric guitar solo, heartfelt lyricism containing another stunning declaration of love, and yet another impassioned vocal performance. Check, check, check. It’s all here and makes for another signature B.M. tune that’s sure to please past, present, and future fans.

Not one for the sensitive, mushy-gushy stuff, Cravin makes a bid for a woman’s time and attention with a much smoother attitude and swagger (I love that word!), on Grown Man Business. This type of material, at least production-wise, is what I felt Brian’s albums always needed more of. He didn’t have to necessarily make bouncy, upbeat club tracks but he could include a nice, mellow pulse into his album by working with suave grooves like this one.

Against a flirty bassline and nice throwback drum loop (*shockingly* done well by the TrackMasters), Brian pulls out his player card and actually makes a convincing argument for himself as he tries to persuade a woman into dealing with the grown and sexy for a change. Brian or Cravin, whoever this is, knows that subtlety is an art and they work with it well on here.

The best thing Everything I Do has going for it is Brian’s smooth, falsetto croon simply because it just drips with Prince’s essence. And it’s perfectly suited for the song’s jazzy motif. The lyrics, too, are a bit reminiscent of Prince (sans the cheesy “I’m gonna lay a blockbuster on you tonight” line) but with the song’s 6:39 running time, the song seems to plod after a short while and becomes lazy and cyclical, at least to me, by the time it ends (unless you’re having a bedroom marathon).

However, Brian redeems himself with the more entertaining and animate bedroom jam Here With You. The urban jazz sound from “What We Do Here” seems to have spilled over onto here, and working well with Brian’s more breathy falsetto and confident lyricism (sans the cheeky line about grabbing a lil’ booty), proves that this sound is one Brian needs to work with a lot more often.

All Over Now picks up the pace a little more and seems like a ready-made single. The mid-tempo groove has just enough bounce perfectly suited for a little slow grind. Brian’s lyricism is a little more on the seductive side of romantic and he works it with a wink and smile like a true pro.

She sounds like one of the best songs musiq never recorded and one of the best up-tempos that Brian ever has. Sounding similar in nature to musiq’s own “her”, his production team, Carvin and Ivan, laced Brian with a bouncy shuffle groove sure to put a pep in the most romantic stepper’s step. Brian’s vocals and lyrics manage to stay on-point but what’s more surprising and entertaining would have to be the sly guest appearance from Talib Kweli. Brian has a tendency to collabo with rappers who want to thug out his style, with disastrous results, but Talib is a perfect fit for this mellow shuffle groove and Brian’s charming subject matter. Now Brian is usually known as a subtly smooth cat but more than once, thanks to Cravin’s influence, he’s a little more straightforward and candid with his intentions.

Where he’d once finely romance a woman into his arms and proceed with caution, on tracks like the jazzy number Stay, he makes his intentions crystal clear. Against the sly sound of the production, Brian’s forthright in telling his female company that he wants her to stay for one sole reason. Thankfully, Brian never crosses the disrespectful line and still pulls off this persona with the greatest of ease.

But no matter how much of a winking player Brian may be, he’s still not above pleading for his woman’s love. Realizing how detrimental his change in demeanor may have been to his relationship, on Come Back, against understated production, Brian realizes the error of his ways and begs for a second chance. You can best believe that no matter what Brian’s doing, be it romancing or pleading, he’s doing it wholehearted and you can’t help but respect the man for that.

Remember when I stated earlier that Brian has the tendency to collabo with rappers that want to thug out his style? Watcha Gonna Do? is a prime example. I don’t know if it’s Brian’s desire to stay relevant and look hip and cool to a younger generation or if he thinks it actually sounds good, but whenever he travels down this route, he ends up falling flat on his face. Against a slick, hip-hop tinged R&B backdrop, Brian tries to seduce a female companion for the evening. But unsure of his capabilities, he calls in Juvenile and his prot?g? Skip, along with newcomer Akon for backup and the end result is a dish best served skip. It tries way too hard and sounds way too unbelievable.

Don’t worry though. Brian quickly realizes the error of his ways and redeems himself with the gorgeous Your Song. Just picture Brian, backed by a jazz quarter (percussion, guitar, bass, and piano), serenading that special someone in a smoky caf?. The song’s ambiance is relaxing and smooth to no end and leaves you wanting more. It would’ve been the perfect ending but, being a prerequisite of mostly all of Brian’s releases, we have to end this album on a spiritual note.

And thus we have Me & You, a chilling depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion. The whole execution, while a bit long and under whelming, was still a nice job done and a satisfactory end to a surprisingly good album.

It’s safe to say that Brian finally found his niche with this record. The man should’ve been doing jazzy R&B all along. It’s the perfect spectrum for his talents to flourish in. He can still record those gorgeous crossover ballads like no one else and proves that he’s still a great lothario when he puts a little pep in his step. He’s found his musical pulse and has finally managed to make one of his albums come alive and stay alive.

We finally have a good reason to pay attention to Brian McKnight, or at least to one of his albums. Be it the romantic seducer or winking lothario, Brian’s combined the best of both of his worlds. Although some claim that he’s a bit too old and mature and has become too complacent with his style to be considered relevant, Gemini proves that while Brian may be a grown man in a sea of young bucks, he’s doing just fine minding his grown man business.

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