AL GREEN: I'M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU (1972)
1) I'm Still In Love With You; 2) I'm Glad You're Mine; 3) Love And Happiness; 4) What A Wonderful Thing Love Is; 5) Simply Beautiful; 6) Oh, Pretty Woman; 7) For The Good Times; 8) Look What You Done For Me; 9) One Of These Good Old Days.
I always knew there was one particularly magic moment on this record — the idea had been lingering in my head since the very first listen, but, for a long time, it seemed impossible to lay my finger on it, as if the whole album were shrouded in a stealth cloak. But then finally I knew the secret, even if it didn't become any less magical because of this.
It comes at 0:37 into 'I'm Glad You're Mine'. [If you own the album, go listen to it before you read on any further and see if you agree]. It's when the tender strings "swoop" arrives in response to Al's call. He makes the call three times, see — 'baby, I'm so glad you're here... baby, I've got something to say my dear... baby, I'm so glad you're mine...' — at exactly the third 'baby', no sooner, no later, the strings come in as if finally replying, finally giving in to Green's seductive, yearning cooing. See, not even the instruments can resist this, much less his female audience!
On I'm Still In Love With You, Green's transformation into the Ladies' Man is complete. Even the album cover, with the man sporting a blinding white suit, slyly and contentedly, with a hint at decadence, perhaps, grinning at you from a blinding white wicker chair, exudes temptation (of course, some of the more cynical heads might probably think of it as advertising a dentist's office instead). And the songs are ALL about love, passion, devotion, and, to a small extent, suffering (from love, passion, and devotion). Simply put, Al now knows what kind of thing is best for him, and dedicates himself completely to doing that one thing.
Accusing the record of monotonousness would be like condemning a lion for carnivorous behaviour. It may be wise to savour its genius slowly, one or two songs at a time, to get a better taste for all of its delicious little flourishes and vignettes — another well-propagated use for it is to employ it as the soundtrack to one's making out, if you're into that kind of thing (i. e. a generous threesome with Al Green). The approaches are numerous. But to treat this in an 'applied' matter without recognizing it as a major work of art would be criminal.
I'm Still In Love With You has arguably the finest combination of singing, melody, rhythm section work, organ, strings, and backup vocals on a soul record ever. It is a very well fleshed out record, with multiple sonic layers, a great level of understanding between all the players and the singer, and a respectable balance between groove and melody. A perfect example is 'Love And Happiness'; the strings flourish on 'I'm Glad You're Mine' may be the most magical moment on the record, but 'Love And Happiness' is simply my favourite song in the Green catalog, and actually, the moment when the mysterious organ line presents the main section after the quiet introduction is only iotas below the 'baby'-substituting strings.
And it goes deeper than one might expect from a song called 'Love And Happiness'. It's a nervous, disturbing song, with the organ and the brass section working towards establishing a slightly paranoid mood — so that Al's "warning" at the beginning of the song ('something that can make you do wrong, make you do right...') comes back to you with a vengeance, and so that you realize that the 'power of love' may, indeed, be a double-edged weapon. And all this time the rhythm section hacks away with a rhythmic power normally intended to make you dance — but here, the heavy, precise drumming and the pounding bass only remind you further of the danger of the whole thing. And then it just goes on and on for three minutes after there's no more verses, because that's exactly how much time Al needs to implant his inner confusion and turmoil inside his listeners — those that actually listen, of course.
But that's about the grimmest thing on this unabashedly happy album. Shaking off the cobwebs, Al then proceeds straight into the honey-pouring 'What A Wonderful Thing Love Is', and his cover of Orbison's 'Pretty Woman' transforms a magnificent pop song into a magnificent celebration of an idolized love object.
My only complaint is that I don't seem to possess the exact amount of soul to connect with Green on the same level as I am able to connect with, say, John Lennon. My mind finds too many mannerisms and not enough straightforward directness in this stuff; all of these sonic layers are gorgeous, but just how many of them do you need to penetrate in order to get straight to the heart? And is that steel-melting, iceberg-thawing voice of his really the voice of his heart, or just a well calculated gimmick to give ladies their dose of physical pleasure? These questions will never cease to torment me, but in the meantime that does not prevent I'm Still In Love With You from becoming the most consistent, the most well-produced, the most symbolic album in Al Green's entire career, or from receiving an easy thumbs up from both the intellectual department (for some of the cleverest arrangements in soul history) and the emotional one (for successful idolization of love as the supreme emotion).