In much the same manner as Earth Wind & Fire, The Whispers took a hiatus of several years after 1984. Those four years were ones where the Caterpillar of funk and soul were in an interesting chrysalis. And ready to re-emerge with a captivating butterfly of classic structures with contemporary dressing. This was 1987. The group were still on the Solar label and were about to burst out with something that was…not quite unexpected. But in terms of it’s impact? I have a feeling this was at least a little surprising.
“I Want You” is a pounding Minneapolis/Jam & Lewis style dance/funk jam while “Special F/X” is deep,pulsing synth based number with accenting rhythm guitars-funk that’s also very much informed by the groups choral vocal harmonies. “Rock Steady” is a big,synth brassy uptempo dance/funk monster with an irresistible melody and that hook that made it so famous. “No Pain,No Gain” is a pounding,gritty mid tempo synth funker while “In The Mood” and “Give It To Me” are soulful urban contemporary jazz/pop ballads while the title song and “Love’s Calling” have that doo-wop shuffle the Whispers were always renowned for in terms of slow jams.
One of the best things about this album is that,typical of Whispers albums,it was able to feature nothing but strong songs and performances that were moving forward in step from their time. With people such as Babyface participating in the writing? Many of the grooves on this album strongly benefit from the freestyle dance and new jack based uptempo approaches.
Those were the cutting edge styles that were then beginning to add a heavy new muscle to funk oriented dance music of the late 1980’s. This album and it’s hits easily stands with the best of such releases of the 1987-1989 time frame. And did so from a thoroughly vocal group perspective. Definitely worth picking up for 80’s funk and dance admirers as well as Whispers fans!
Ever since my earliest days of listening to music more seriously? I developed a strong interest in 70’s Motown. This was a record label with a musical sound so distinctive? An entire sub-genre of pop/soul was named after the label itself-the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing. One of the most fascinating bridges between the sunny melodies of Motown’s classic sound and the funk/psychedelic soul excursions to come was the burgeoning solo career of former Temptation David Ruffin.
For his part? Ruffin never got the chance to be the lead singer on Temptations’ game changers such as “Cloud Nine”,”Ball of Confusion” or “Psychedelic Shack”. But in the (at the time) long gap between his second solo album and his third? Ruffin had to be noticing the changes in music heavily-because he turned to Philadelphia soul producer Bobby Miller to helm his self titled 1972 comeback album. His new sound was typified wonderfully with the song “Blood Donors Needed (Give What You Can)”.
Opening with a dim wah wah and percussive intro,the rhythm guitar kicks into gear with a high pitched bluesy intonation. The bass also kicks with right in along with it-a higher bass line extremely reminiscent of the one on Aretha’s “Rock Steady” from the same year. The main drum beat of the song has a strident march while,on the ultra bluesy choruses,a melodic organ solo kicks into gear before Ruffin’s distinctive powerful,gravelly pipes are echo plexed. The song ends segues into the sound of an out of tune music box before returning to a melodic trumpet call to end out the song.
Instrumentally this is a wonderfully thick funk/blues/soul jam with a very unusual quality of sound about it. Everything on this song sounds extremely tinny and metallic . The wah wah in particular sounds recorded far away from the microphone. And the general production sounds purposefully sent through a hollow metal tube.With the mixture of modern stylistic signatures high on the funk? The stark,unpolished sound holds up just right with the harrowing lyrics about urban decay,violence and the need for medical assistance in the lower class communities. It’s a bit more overt and earnest than the Tempts more abstract takes on serious topics. But it’s a high water mark (if unsung) for David Ruffin’s 70’s era solo career.