Steve Lacy struggles with, and celebrates, painstaking self-awareness in his newest album Gemini Rights
It’s rare these days for a piece of music to make me feel genuine joy while simultaneously delivering hard truth. A type of song or album that commands interaction — maybe a head bob or a leg tap or even a full-on dance — but also leaves its listener finding a renewed sense of self.
Yet such a delivery seems second-nature in Steve Lacy’s latest album Gemini Rights, a 34-minute collection of breakup, post-breakup, and post-post-breakup songs that always seem to come back to a brooding lesson on self-worth.
With each listen comes a new aspect of the narrator’s story, as well as a new layer of music, in a way that you experience the progression of his emotions at the same rate as they occur. In the intro song “Static,” for example, the singer addresses his past lover with lines of tongue-in-cheek resentment yet also reluctant care, remarking,
Baby, you got something in your nose
Sniffin’ that K, did you feel the hole?
Hope you find peace for yourself
New boyfriend ain’t gon’ fill the void
As he continues, he refers to the song itself, and consequently you, the listener, singing,
Do you even really like this track?
Take away the drugs, would you feel the noise?
In asking these questions, you get placed into the point of view of the ex-lover, as Lacy asks you to understand the mistake you made leaving him, while also asking you as the listener whether you like the song because of its story or just because it sounds good. As he keeps your attention, he closes the track with an address not only to you but also to himself, a lesson to re-possess his worth that was diminished over the course of a failing relationship, bluntly stating, “If you had to stunt your shining for your lover, dump that f****r,” before he closes the track with doo-wop harmonies.
This emotional and multi-dimensional intro sets the stage for Gemini Rights as a narrative in which the principal character fights against chasing old feelings for someone in order to grow as a result of patience and self-awareness.
Painful truth like this is present in the song “Mercury,” a manifesto on the narrator’s own character that highlights his faults with love, with relationships, and with personality. References to astrology are prevalent, such as “Gemini, I’m a myth and a legend,” a sentiment pointing towards his own nature as someone who takes things too fast and thus loses quickly, or “Little of heaven, little unpleasant,” the dichotomy representing the two-faced trope of the Gemini.
Yet while pointing to otherworldly forces that his fate is tied to like the Venus retrograde, he also recognizes the flaws in his character that he can do something about, connecting them to his father’s lack of vulnerability or his tendency to never learn his lesson after many mistakes. This new, mature voice in his head is backed by a dramatic Latin instrumental that is layered with acoustic guitar and maracas, a tune that makes the song feel like a Greek tragedy is occurring, ending with a sonic shift to heavy auto-tune that signifies Lacy’s reckoning following his downfall.
In other songs, such as “Helmet,” Lacy celebrates the realization that he deserves more acceptance than what his past lover had given him, gleefully singing “All that I could be, is me and all me,” and smugly remarking, “You just gotta let me go, as I’m trying to let go of you,” as if he is shrugging while telling his ex to move on.
At the same time, the instrumentals are stripped back, as if a weight has been lifted off of what was previously heavily-layered. Following long notes of celebration comes chill bass chords that allow the happiness to linger. Melodies in the pre-chorus also sound like a parody of feel-good radio hits; in one instance, I was reminded of the song “Second Chance” by Shinedown.
Just as self-awareness is not always portrayed as painstaking throughout the album, it is neither always portrayed as successful. In the penultimate song of the album “Sunshine”, Lacy and singer Fousheé exchange a dialogue, Lacy singing as himself and Fousheé singing as his ex, in which both admit their lingering feelings for each other, supplemented by the reveal that they are continuing to have sex after the breakup.
In the bittersweet exchange, the two characters slowly fall into submission of each other, eventually admitting, “I’m always gonna be where you are.” At the end of this conversation, the two lovers share a stuttering exchange, before repeating a harmonic “I still, I still love you.” In an inexplicable way, however, the two singers manage to capture the newfound hesitance in this statement, reflecting how this love is not the same one it used to be.
This idea is concluded in the outro song “Give You The World,” briefly basking in the reclaimed love before singing with a sigh of resignation, “Baby, it’s gone, it died.” The quick closer consolidates the theme of the entire album in two simple choruses, the first claiming “I’ll give you the world,” and the second claiming “I gave you the world.”
Gemini Rights gives listeners a look into the often confusing and disappointing, but also joyful and clarifying, process of self-awareness, relayed by the jagged chronological sequence and varying emotions that each instrumental track represents. Though in some cases, that distortion leads to some tracks feeling out of place.
The single “Bad Habit” is one such case. However, it would be a shame to not express equal admiration for it as it is unarguably the catchiest song on the entire record. And while not fitting thematically with the rest of the album, the song itself maintains a coherent theme, being self-referential in many cases. For example, in the first pre-chorus, he sings “I bite my tongue, it’s a bad habit.” In the next, he sings “Can I bite your tongue like my bad habit?”
This mastery of songwriting in Gemini Rights not only testifies to Steve Lacy’s emotional growth but also his artistic growth since his last full-length project. Had he been out of touch with either of those areas, there’s no telling whether he would have been able to tie the two together in a story that is as suspenseful, dulcet, or relatable as this.
Listen to Gemini Rights by Steve Lacy below.