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May 25, 2013 18:46 - CR
On his 13th studio album, R&B legend Brian McKnight proves two things: one is that he still has one of the purest, most silky-smooth voices in urban music.

Despite being in the music game for over two decades, there's been no apparent erosion in his singing skills. His vocal abilities seem as sharp as ever. Unfortunately, the other thing that his More Than Words album proves is that after over 20 years, his brand of music has grown fairly stale. More Than Words, which was released in the U.S. March 19, 2013, sounds exactly like vintage B. McKnight. And although that might seem like a compliment on the surface, it actually means the album's dated and stuck in the past.

Finely Tuned Vocals

From the first musical notes of "Don't Stop," the opening track on Brian McKnight's More Than Words, it's readily apparent that this is an album that's holding tight to the singer's mid-'90s heyday. All 15 of the album's songs are pretty much what you'd hear from a McKnight album from 20 years ago; same finely tuned vocals, same cliche yet heartwarming lyrics, same production style. After branching out creatively to try new things on his previous album, 2011's Just Me, Brian's gone back to his bread and butter and given up the heavy guitars and synthesizers. It's possible he was scared off from experimentation because Just Me turned out to be the least successful release of his career so far. But to go back to exactly the same sound he employed two decades ago represents a major creative regression, and a disappointing one at that. If you own all of Brian McKnight's previous albums -- or even if you own just one -- you probably already know exactly what Just Me sounds like.

Maybe the best thing that can be said about this release is that he didn't actually go in the explicit direction that he promised he would in an online video in 2012. Although he later claimed it, as well as raunchy tune "If You're Ready to Learn" (aka "Let Me Show You How Your P_ssy Works") were just jokes, he still hasn't quite made up for it here. When the best thing you can say about an album is that it doesn't containing any songs about squirting orgasms, then that's really not a good thing.

Growing Stale

That said, if you can't get enough classic Brian McKnight, there's plenty of it here. Exhibit A is the first single, "Sweeter," a lovely mid-tempo, acoustic guitar-propelled song about how much better life seems when you're in love: "The sky is so much bluer now since you came into my life girl, the sun shines so much brighter now since you opened up my eyes girl," he sings. "Yeah, everything in my life is sweeter, sweeter, you make my life much sweeter." The second single, "4th of July," follows the same basic theme, with B. Mac crooning about how happy he is romantically: "When we kiss it's like Christmas, I still feel butterflies, every time we're together, like the 4th of July," he sings. "You make feel like the 4th of July, you like me up like the 4th of July."

Perhaps the kindest thing that can be said about More Than Words is that at least Brian stayed true to himself and didn't try to jump on any musical bandwagons and make a fool out of himself by trying to acting much younger and compete head-to-head with contemporary R&B artists like Miguel and Trey Songz. But with that said, he does himself no real favors by retreating to song formulas of the past instead of breathing new life into a musical style that's grown stale.