Friday, March 22, 2013

Brian McKnight: More Than Words

First of all - my one-year-old fell asleep as soon as we picked his brother up from preschool, which is always at least a mini-disaster, nap-wise.  If the baby naps early, I can't get the three-year-old to nap at all, and I have to try to keep him quiet to boot (and as I'm sure most parents can attest, three-year-olds are not exactly low-decibel entities).  So today I put on some Dinosaur Train to keep his little yap shut and his little feet quiet, which was working really well until I finally turned around and noticed that his silence was probably just due to the amount of concentration it was taking him to maintain this unusual TV-watching position.  But hey, if that's what it takes...
Ah yes, that's my boy!

Anyway, because it's Friday and I'm lazy, I'm not going to give much biographical information about Brian McKnight here (you can look at Wikipedia if you're curious), except for the fact that his first album dropped in 1992 and he knows how to play the flugelhorn.  Instead, I'm going to pull a couple of quotes from this interview with him over at New Media Rockstars, which is hands-down the longest music-related piece I've found and actually completely READ.  And why, you ask?  Well, McKnight had me at writing songs on the toilet: "I used to keep a guitar in my bathroom because I can get a lot done in there. I spend a lot of time in there. I go number two about five, six times a day. So when I’m in there now–because cell phones are so awesome–I can play Temple Run, and I got almost 2 million sitting on the toilet playing Temple Run, because I might be there a while" (not to make McKnight jealous or anything, but I've exceeded 10 million playing Temple Run on the toilet - just saying).  And then he kept me interested talking about his Internet parody track "If Ur Ready 2 Learn" (which was written from the POV of a vibrator), informing the reader that "But really–honestly–I fuck a lot," and straight-up answering a question with the observation "Well, most people aren’t very smart."  Ah, good times.

So now let's talk about the album.  On a purely musical basis, this record is not too extraordinary - mostly it's a blend of a sort of '80s-to-'90s-feeling soft rock and light jazz.  Nevertheless, there were two songs that caught my ear based on their music alone, the first being "She Doesn't Know", which has just a whiff of Hall & Oates about it, and features a distant electric snarl that punctuates a repetitive synth motif and slick lyrics ("She ain't the type to give it up quick/She won't fall for that everyday shtick").  The second was the most uptempo track on the album, or in other words "Made for Love", which was co-written by Colbie Caillat and sails in over a buzzing electronic blur and an '80s-tastic keyboard riff before adding a handclap and some lyrics ("You said you were getting hungry/So was I/I suggested Volcano (?)/You said that was just perfect/Got to know each other/Chinese and wine"). 

Luckily, from a lyrical standpoint (and as that interview certainly suggested), I had a bit more to work with.  One of my two personal favorites came in the form of "Get U 2 Stay", where McKnight mentions his golf prowess, suggests a threesome, drops the lyric "And baby I'm not joking/If you see me smoking/I'm on fire", AND quotes the judging panel of So You Think You Can Dance ("Now we're dancing/You're a beast/And you're smelling like strawberry peach") ALL IN THE SAME SONG.  "The Front, The Back, The Side", which features McKnight's son Niko, is another standout in this department, mostly because it manages to make a whole slew of slightly-dirty Internet puns before the chorus, which details instructions for taking the best possible naughty profile pictures ("Got your retweet/Got on your timeline/Saw your rhetoric/And your profile pic/And I liked it/Started cyber-lurking/And a little flirting online/So I followed you/And you followed me/Did some conversatin'/With no punctuation").  I guess what I'm trying to say is that, in general, this album is pervaded by a similar sense of irreverent fun as the new Charlie Wilson release, although its music is less textured.

So what's my opinion of the thing?  Well, if you read my blog with any regularity, you know I'm not a huge R&B fan in general (ballads = boring in Gretchen land), and the medium tempos which drive this album are not my favorites.  Furthermore, I found much of the musical background to McKnight's falsetto generic.  And yet... and yet, I think I LIKED it, and it grew on me more with each listen.  This thing doesn't break any barriers, or reinvent the wheel, but McKnight brings a sense of humor to the genre, and his zany take on modern R&B lyrics made me smile.  Basically, although it has all the elements to add up to something I wouldn't enjoy, I did anyway.  And not just 'cause I can kick McKnight's ASS at toilet Temple Run (although that part did help).


  1. This review makes me feel old and out of it. Is Temple Run that game on your ipad that even Ned can play?

    1. It is an iPad game, but it's too difficult for the wee ones. And you're only KIND OF old and out of it ;)