What’s funny about “grown & sexy”, the S. Carter-coined term for the post-teen urban set, is its puerile presumption that grown-ups generally aren’t that sexy. What’s even funnier is how veteran adult contemporary chart topper Brian McKnight organizes his latest offering, Gemini, and its most bumping track, “Grown Man Business”, around this blatant oxymoron. Then again, contradiction is inherent to the cocoa crooner born June 5, 1969. Astrology paints this star’s sign mutable at best, hypocritical and two-faced at worst: alternately apropos estimations of McKnight’s music.
Seven albums ago, McKnight forsake gospel roots for a surprisingly successful secular career as a sensitive songster, but the seductive bling of hip-hop soul and its accoutrements left the ambitious artist feeling unfulfilled and maybe even a little marginal.
Admittedly, Gemini’s soul-stirring intro, “Stay With Him”, sets McKnight apart from the maddening crowd but that proves to be a good thing. Masterfully mimicking the a cappella styling of his brother Claude’s sextet, Take 6, McKnight urges his chick on the side to stay with her main man with a sweet, compelling mischievousness, while on the stunning “Your Song” the slightly conked chap channels Nat King Cole in a brilliant jazz-tinged vocal performance. Fun but forgettable first single “What We Do Here” references hip-hop with its hit-it-and-quit-it content and Roger Troutman talk box appreciation on the catchy chorus, all of which fits nicely over McKnight’s soft, smooth jazz instrumentation. “Stay” finds the b-balling balladeer better adept at integrating a little hip hop styling into his trademark smooth pop sound.
Successful sonic excursions are one side of Gemini. The not-so-pretty side, awkward and street-inspired, features the prison industrial complex’s vocal victim, Akon, and scatological southern rapper Juvenile on “Whatcha Gon’ Do”. Fading-fast BK emcee Talib Kweli also appears to no avail on “She”. Thankfully, McKnight quickly returns to his senses. The familiar melodic melodrama of “Back at One” and “One Last Try” reappear on “Everytime You Go Away”, while “Everything I Do” provides McKnight an opportunity to unearth his faulty falsetto made famous on the 2001 smash “Love of My Life”.
Having just cut ties with wife of 13 years, Julie, and fulfilled his hoop dreams courtesy of a quick stint with the ABA’s Ontario Warriors, McKnight might be a likely example of an early mid-life crisis if not for his status as a meandering Gemini. With Gemini, McKnight manages to escape the lure of his trend-conscious alter ego, another of the 30-plus entertainers who feel a need to justify their presence in a youth-obsessed market. Instead the album witnesses the musician just playing his fated position. Not all-star caliber but well enough for his faithful fans.