Why am I giving five stars to an albums where I am not 100% crazy about every song?The simple reason is that,in terms of everything Lionel Richie is musically this debut album is one of his most overall richest experiences. Conceptually Lionel’s style of blending contemporary funk/R&B styles with slow,sentimental “countrypoliton” types of ballads really feels at it’s most down to earth and organic here. It would have been nice if Lionel had included more uptempo songs here but that is more of a preference on my part.But for those who feel the same way it is true.
The funk type tunes that are here are some of the very best he ever made.”Serves You Right” and “Tell Me” are great jams,more in keeping with a a kind of “naked sophisti-funk” type of groove then the more polished urban styled jams on Lionel’s final album with the Commodores In the Pocket.The other song of this type here is “You Are”-it isn’t exactly what I’d call funk but definitely a great peppy,uptempo R&B love song. It was really not a bad early solo hit for Lionel and frankly a musical style worth pursuing further.
Of course the majority of this album is weighed toward the ballad end of things,the style Lionel chose to make his musical calling but…….well to be honest not his greatest strength. Romantically and sentimentally satisfying fare such as “Wandering Spirit”,”Truly” and the brief final two cuts “You Mean More To Me” and “Just Put Some Love In Your Heart” are musically excellent for such slow-paced songs.However unlike with fellow Motowners Smokey Robinson,Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye,Lionel seemed to have difficulty inflecting his slow songs with any real sense of emotional expression.
Vocally these types of songs tend to come off as…well overly sentimental in his hand.He basically sounds like a black version of Kenny Rogers on these types of tunes and therefore it’s no doubt their musical connection and that Kenny appears on this album.Of course the bonus tracks really showcase another side of his talent.The demo of “Endless Love” shows the nucleus of a song that,while overproduced to the extreme in its final form really gives you an inside peek into Lionel’s technique as a composer with this demo having a more bare,folksy flavor.
The instrumental version of “You Are” is not only great to dance to but solid proof of Lionel’s 70’s-born concept that the catchiness of a great dance tune didn’t just come from the singing:it was the horns,the keyboards and most importantly the rhythm. If you a Commodores fan just getting into Lionel Richie’s solo music and want an easy starting point,in this case it might be best to start at the beginning here.
The next album Can’t Slow Down was of course hugely more successful commercially (not that this was any slouch in that respect either) but musically that album is a whole other beast entirely,for better or worse. This definitely finds Lionel with one foot in his past and the other in things to come musically and in any case is more than worth hearing
Originally posted on July 27th,2009
Filed under 1980's, adult contemporary, Amazon.com, ballads, Boogie Funk, country/soul, Lionel Richie, Motown, Music Reviewing, post disco, Uncategorized