Spin Cycle

Where have all the ballads gone?

When I saw that Brian McKnight was releasing a new album I volunteered myself for review duties hoping I’d find the answer to the question I’ve been asking for the past 15 years.

Surely, his new album would feature the sappy love songs that I’ve longed for! The songs McKnight helped popularize back in the mid-90s. Songs like “Anytime” or “Back at One”.

You see Mr. McKnight himself brought up this lack of ballad issue when he headlined (over Boyz II Men! C’mon!) a Ladies Night concert in late-2011 that I attended. I’ll wait while you check … “KJ is a dude?” Yes. I’m a dude. Yes, I attended the Ladies Night concert and loved it! Yes, I got twice as much action the five days after the concert than I did in the six months leading up to it. Turns out that the slow jams work on my U2-loving wife too!

Before he went into his 2009 single, “I Miss You”, McKnight talked to us about writing a hit love song, making the joke, “What you need is a story, because if you’re like me you want to clever your way right off the radio by being a little too complex.”

And it’s true. The ballads of the 80’s and 90’s no longer exist. At least not in  mainstream radio. Heck, I even went country for a few years in the early 00’s because that was the only place I could find relatable love songs that I could throw on a mixtape CD. Even on country airwaves nowadays it’s hard to find a love song with some meaning.

Oh and before you mention it, I’m not going to lump McKnight’s 2012 single “iFUrReady2Learn“. If you haven’t heard the song click on the link – but be prepared. I think it was meant as a joke. People took it the wrong way. He never did release his Adult Mixtape he promised and instead chose wisely by releasing More Than Words.

So, would McKnight’s 15th album solve my dilemma? That love ballads still exist? That people still write and make music like they did back in my heyday when the 90’s were dominated by slow jams about finding love, making love, breaking up and getting back together?

OK, so More Than Words may not have delivered the big ballad that I was looking for. It did deliver a few tracks that once I listened to them a few times they started to grow on me.

Fittingly, my favorite track was not the type of music that I loved back in the late-90’s when I was an adolescent twentysomething, but a track that I could relate to as a thirtysomething father of three.

I loved “Trying Not To Fall Asleep” because it tells the story of a child laying in bed, thinking they are missing something, trying not to fall asleep. My favorite lyric, “Daddy don’t be mad if you hear me crying” explains how I often feel. We get upset because we want them to fall asleep so we can relax, but we know that years down the road we’ll miss the over-and-over requests for water and the nonstop calls of, “Love You Dad!”

Other singles that were enjoyable listens were “Another” written after the death of Whitney Houston, the first single “Sweeter,” a song that could probably get airtime even in this day and age, the title track “More Than Words” (co-written by Colbie Caillat), “4th of July” and the Middle Eastern, guitar featuring, sensual, “Slow”.

Was I annoyed by any of the songs? Only by some of the song titles that looked like they came from McKnight’s Twitter feed. Titles like, “Letsomebodyluvu”, “Livewithoutyou” and “Ididntreallymeantoturnuout”. When did they limit song titles to 140 characters or less? As a wannabe writer this stuff drives me crazy!

Did I find songs that I can relate to? Sure! And though I can relate to the “Follow You”, “Retweet”, “Timeline”, “Instagram” and “Facebook” lyrics that are littered throughout a couple of the songs, can we stop already?! Thirty years from now I hope to listen to songs that include this, look back and think, “What the heck was an Instagram? Oh…that’s right! We were so silly back then!”

“Made for Love” has a little Pointer Sisters “Neutron Dance” feel to it, which is kind of funny since the song talks about driving around Beverly Hills and the Pointers Sisters had two songs on the Beverly Hills soundtrack. See how I got there?

We’ve all had them and “She Doesn’t Know” chats about them – that work crush. I just couldn’t get past that “Last Christmas” feel to it.

McKnight closes the album with two duets, he and Brian McKnight Jr. jazz it up for “Ididntreallymeantoturnuout” and McKnight and his son Niko finish the album off with “The Front The Back The Side”.

It doesn’t take me back to the 90’s and it doesn’t solve my ballad conundrum, but the result is a pretty decent album.

Grade: B

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