I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I went straight,
And that has made all the interest.
– Robert Frost, Cappadonna, & C. Quixote
Don’t let the glossy veneer fool you. Donell Jones has clearly been grappling with personal doublings and fractures as of late. The interest, successes, and flaws of his fourth full-length release, Journey of a Gemini, stem from his attempts to include them all in a single project.
Gemini is Jones’ attempt to sort through two impulses: one toward jaw-dropping misogyny, the other toward sensuality cum sensitivity. On the album’s opening cuts, Jones spits a strain of hyper-slick talk that probably wouldn’t even occur to Snoop Dogg for at least another ten years. Among the next-level quotables from the lead-off track, “Special Girl,” include: “It ain’t all about sex ‘cuz I can always get that.” Protesting lover: “I can be your freak/ Even cook and clean” Jones: “If that’s all you got then you cannot get it/ ‘Cuz I got a chef who can cook all my dinners”
Jones’ ability to browbeat women into adoring him, evidenced by the constant cooing of his female accompaniment to “bring your lovin’ to me” and continued on the reverse-psychologizing single “Better Start Talking,” is, in a word, astounding. In another word, frightening.
While Jones’ passive-aggressive pimp posture provides Gemini’s most lyrically interesting parts, its most musically intriguing moments occur in the album’s latter portions where Jones tries on his alternative, less macho persona. The pre-chorus to “Spend the Night” and the dripping, codeine-slow “Can’t Wait” are top notch, his thin voice fluctuating in multiple intersecting sine waves of seduction.
I won’t pretend to have special access to the “real” Donell Jones’ “true” personality. I can say, however, that he comes off far more convincingly as a player than a nurturer. In part, the sheer audacity of songs like “Special Girl” displays a flair for self-presentation that drowns out the more straightforward “caring Jones.” Meanwhile, his timbre and his choice of cadences lend themselves more to swarmy come-ons and bragging than odes to fidelity or elegies of loss.
The lack of comfortable fit between the two Joneses could have been offset by a better developed narrative structure for Gemini. Echoing John Legend’s Get Lifted and Andre’s The Love Below, Jones tries to construct a narrative of one player’s rise, fall, and redemption. The story arc, however, collapses after the first five songs into what at times seems like an undifferentiated, forty-minute jam.
Underlying this loose story is a glossy but bass-heavy “contemporary” sound that is welcoming if not exactly visionary. Without a doubt, Gemini lacks the sort of visceral punch that made recent albums by Legend, Anthony Hamilton, and Van Hunt so appealing. Nevertheless, Jones provides a solid, if rarely spectacular, collection of songs, compelling as much for their failures as for their successes.