1986, Music

Duotones (1986) by Kenny G

Upon reflection it seems kind of cruel to assume that Kenny G isn’t actually a good saxophone player just because he doesn’t have taste. If I learned one thing from this preposterously popular record, it’s that Kenny G can indeed play. Now, that begs the question, what is worse, someone who has talent and uses it for evil or someone who makes shitty music just because they can’t make better music?

Aside from the vocal tracks, this is about what you might expect: “smooth jazz” saxophone (with occasional flights into playing that would actually count as actual jazz) surrounded by horribly cliche ’80s electronic instruments – the drums are often, though always, replaced by drum machines, the bass sounds mostly like it was played on a keyboard, the keyboards are synthesizers, there’s an even a woodwind synthesizer, etc. I should note there are credited drummers and bass guitarists and somebody is credited with playing a real horn and a real violin. These credits beg us to ask about why the production makes at least some of these instruments sound like they’re not organic but anyway…

The songs are catchy, a few of them quite catchy. Of course, they have to be given how many copies this album sold. I would say that they’re not necessarily catchier overall than those on an Enya record, for example, but at least this music is catchy enough to understand why everyone collectively lost their minds for a little while.

Whether or not this stuff was truly cliche in 1986 it is now. So the only question I think we can really ask about the merit of all of this is how much did Kenny G cause these cliches. Some of them certainly existed in the ’70s – smooth jazz saxophone is not a creation of the 1980s – but how much did he, um, “innovate” by pairing smooth jazz saxophone with terrible ’80s production cliches? And did he start doing so on earlier records? Hopefully I’ll never know.


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