Not really sure what I can say before jumping into this, other than that this was undoubtedly the darkest hour for The People’s Albums, and perhaps America as a whole.
Artist: Kenny G
Release Date: October 20, 1992
Copies Sold In The U.S.: 12 Million
Why Was This Popular?
Because America Doesn’t Give A Shit
Tim: So honey, when are the guests showing up for this little shindig?
Sharon: Oh, should be about an hour. I just got all the finger foods laid out. Say, what CD should I put on? You know for background music. Hey, how about that new Kenny G album I bought?
Tim: Eh, just put on whatever. Preferably something boring and unremarkable that people can ignore while they go on and on, conversing about the same old bullshit.
Sharon: Are you mad at me about something?
Tim: No, I love having your yuppy friends come over and eat all our food and drink all our wine.
Sharon: Ok, Tim. I really don’t want to get into this now.
Tim: Ok, then. Let’s not get into it.
Sharon: Alright then.
Sharon: But you think Kenny G’s Breathless would be a good choice?
Tim: Sharon, I really don’t give a shit.
Sharon: Yeah, well you also said you didn’t give a shit whether I had this party or not. And now you’re complaining about—
Tim: Sharon, to quote our current President, George H.W. Bush — read my lips. I… don’t… give… a… shit.
I can only imagine this scene playing out in 12 million different households as the reason for this album’s staggering success. Surely everyone who bought Breathless were just yuppies that needed bland filler music to put on in the background of their equally bland dinner parties. Right? I mean I suppose there were probably other people of the “mom and pop” persuasion who were tricked into buying it because it was “jazz”, and therefore listening to it made them appear to be more cultured and sophisticated. But this is so far removed from America’s Great Art Form that I’m kinda glad Miles Davis had passed away just a year prior to Breathless’ release, and therefore was not compelled to bend Kenny G over a table and shove an alto-sax up his rectum.
Just kidding, that would’ve been awesome.
Did It Deserve To Be Popular?
I think the whole point of me doing The People’s Albums was to try and force myself to be more open-minded towards mainstream music, and to try and appreciate certain albums that appealed to a wide variety of people—which might not include people like myself. However, this album is indefensible. I cannot understand on any level why anyone would like this, so how about I just break down exactly why this album is a piece of shit:
It is neither jazz nor pop, nor good: Kenny G himself has stated that he doesn’t deserve all the hate that jazz enthusiasts have given him over the years, since he considers himself to be a pop artist, first and foremost. Which I suppose would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that he doesn’t deserve a whole lot of cred as a pop artist either, other than the fact that he somehow tricked millions of people in to buying his albums, which is usually a pretty huge achievement for any pop artist. However, his songs are neither particularly catchy, nor do they express the kind of exuberant joy that all great pop music should aspire to. Instead, it is the aural equivalent of a wet noodle, the kind which no genre would want to stir into their musical melting pot.
It is about as dated as music gets: Regardless of whatever genre you’re working in, how certain songs stand the test of time is always a pretty big indicator of whether there was any quality there in the first place. In this regard, Kenny G’s particular brand of snooze-inducing “smooth jazz” has a sound to it that I can only associate with the early-to-mid 90’s. This kind of music, for better or for worse, was the soundtrack to my childhood dentist appointments and yes, my parent’s dinner parties. Any other context for hearing the laughably dated sounds that emanate from Breathless just feels wrong. Basically, I could not even begin to comprehend how someone my age (or any other age) would be listening to this in the year 2013.
It’s 70 fucking minutes long: Yeah, that’s right. As if listening to a single song on this album didn’t already feel like an eternity, Breathless runs at an endurance-testing 69 minutes and 57 seconds. Because I guess Kenny G wanted to give people their money’s worth? I guess? But even that’s hard to understand when every song sounds exactly the fucking same, and not once over the course of these 70 minutes does the album come close to eliciting any sort of emotional response other than “I could really use a nap”. Just to put it in context, Minor Threat’s entire discography in total is 47 minutes worth of music. In about two-thirds the length of Breathless, that band managed to create an entire ethos and body of work that has inspired nothing but raw emotion in young people, and probably will continue to for decades to come, while Kenny G’s Breathless takes 70 minutes in going exactly no where, and eliciting nothing in anyone.
It makes me ashamed of my hometown: As if this album’s plain awfulness wasn’t enough, I also can’t help but take offense to the fact that Kenny G was of course born and raised in my hometown of Seattle. And sure, there were a lot of amazing things going on in Seattle in the early nineties that had nothing to do with Kenny G (I’m thinking of a rock sub-genre that rhymes with “sponge”). Still, it’s a little disheartening to know that apart from Pearl Jam’s Ten, this is the highest-selling ’90s album to from a “Seattle artist”. Yup. More than Nirvana. More than Soundgarden. Even more than Sir-Mix-A-Lot. Which I guess makes this perhaps the only instance in which I’ve ever been thankful for Pearl Jam’s undying popularity.
Would I Pay Money For This?
Maybe if I wanted to start my own discount torture agency. You know, people could bring guys in that they wanted to have tortured, but for a more reasonable fee than going to the mob, and without any of the stigma. But since the hair salon next door would surely keep complaining about me blasting Norwegian death-metal in order to get guys to cave in, I’d go in the other direction. I’d go soft, since I can only assume that listening to Kenny G’s Breathless on loop would surely break any unsuspecting low-life down in to a shell of a man.
I usually try to post a video of one of my favorite songs on whatever album I’m talking about, but since that’s impossible in this case, I’m posting the absolute worst.
Next Time On The People’s Albums: I try to see if Jewel can save my soul from Kenny G flashbacks with her album Pieces Of You.