Brian McKnight just seems to be one of the last few models of consistency left in the R&B world; whether or not the charts agree, though, is up for debate. Evolution of a Man marks the changes and maturity that Brian McKnight has gained in the seventeen years and that have seen him release over ten albums since he first came onto the scene. While his star is definitely waning (Usher’s fate in another ten years, perhaps?), he’s still found it in him to make a decent record to appease his both his fans and aficionados of that smooth unautotuned nineties-flavoured R&B.
This is no Anytime or Back At One – that time is past – but there are a couple of beautiful songs on the album. Sometimes I wish that every song had some piano on it, because the few that do are among the most outstanding. “Another You” has some jazzy undertones, showcasing Brian McKnight’s readiness to experiment (although this is much better than that country thing he tried in Ten), and “Never Say Goodbye” is likewise exquisite, with some Boyz II Men-esque harmonies.
The album does occasionally step it up to 2009 though, with tracks like “I Miss You” that have some synthwork reminiscent of something Polow da Don would come up with. “I Betcha Never” is another one that seems to be out of the usual Brian-McKnight realm, with jumpier beats and a post-2000 sexiness. He channels Stevie Wonder on “While,” with some really interesting tambourines livening the mood, and making it different from the smooth, sultry sound he is known for.
While the first single, “What I’ve Been Waiting For,” is without a doubt one of the best ballads on the album, there are times, especially in the chorus, when the voices of the Backstreet Boys (although with a lot more soul) come to mind. “Next to You” is a darker mid-tempo song with a sound that is quite different from the others, with sparse instrumentation and dramatic vocals. As a whole, Evolution of a Man, although it is in every aspect a solid (songwriting, production) R&B album, especially by today’s standards, it probably won’t be able to touch the late nineties gems that really sent Brian McKnight flying. That being said, the evolution is far from over; if he keeps this pace he can probably crank out another couple albums in the next decade.