Words by Edward T. Bowser, SoulInStereo.com
By now, it should be no surprise that I’m a lifelong R&B fan. I don’t know too many other guys who can engage in serious debates over the production of a 1994 Keith Sweat album or spout off on the whereabouts of random groups like Somethin’ for the People.
The majority of my close male friends aren’t big R&B fans, though. They say that there are few artists with whom they can truly connect. R&B songs don’t speak to their life experiences, they claim.
But back in 2000, there was one song all my boys could relate to – Donell Jones’ “Where I Wanna Be.” Donell’s admission of abandoning a relationship to see if absence truly makes the heart grow fonder wasn’t the most romantic move to take but it’s one a lot of guys could relate to.
Men had finally found their muse.
On Forever, Donell’s sixth solo release, he continues to be the voice for male listeners. The first half of the album serves as an ode to his woman. “They say a man isn’t supposed to cry, but I’m crying out for you,” he croons on the title track. Those themes are echoed in “Closer I Get to You” (no, not that one) and “Beautiful,” where he assures his woman that “that type of beauty don’t come cheap.” The lyrics are sung with a gentle sincerity that give those compliments authenticity. They don’t come off as petty one-liners.
Donell sounds just as sincere when he admits he’s done wrong. “Don’t Blame Me” almost sounds like an apology for the indiscretions of “Where I Wanna Be”: “We gotta let go of these little boy habits and become a man,” he says. The gentle “Sorry I Hurt You” is equally apologetic.
Donell also pays tributes to his heroes – his mother on the album closer, “A Mother’s Love,” and “I Miss the King,” an ode to the immortal King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
Most of the album dwells in the same mid-tempo groove, which begins to wear out its welcome a little over halfway through the set. But once Donell attempts to break up the monotony, things go awry.
The finger snaps and minimalistic production of “Step the F Off” are tailor-made for urban radio, and that’s kind of a problem. It sounds too forced, like an attempt to sound like everything else on the airwaves. “You Know” comes off a bit better, even with hackneyed lyrics like “f***ing with a G, I keep it 1,000” and bragging that a girl has “a booty like a stripper.” Donell’s vocals on “I’m So Gone” are slightly distorted to match the electric guitars that squeal throughout the track. It was probably a better idea in theory than practice. It’s like Donell is doing a bad Jason Derulo impression.
Forever is far from flawless but neither is Donell. He’s still speaking the language of male fans, flaws and all. Somebody’s gotta do it.
Best tracks: “Closer I Get to You,” “Sorry I Hurt You,” “I Miss the King”
3.5 stars out of 5