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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Al Green: Livin' For You


1) Livin' For You; 2) Home Again; 3) Free At Last; 4) Let's Get Married; 5) So Good To Be Here; 6) Sweet Sixteen; 7) Un­chained Melody; 8) My God Is Real; 9) Beware.

I cannot think of anything substantial to say about this album. It is another transitional piece, ap­parently, before Green started venturing into more "danceable" territory with his next album, and as such, reflects the usual high standard of Green's records, but with next to no serious surprises and no minor breakthroughs into unexplored territory.

For some reason, the songs here just don't grapple as much as the best songs on his two previous records; maybe he was again temporarily running out of ideas, or maybe his musical partners were too busy trying out the latest in trendy chemicals, or maybe it's just that the recording ses­sions fell on an unlucky day. Case in point: the eight-minute jam of 'Beware' looks like it's there just to occupy all the empty space — with 'Jesus Is Waiting', at least Al had some sort of point to break through, but here he is just coasting; with class, but still coasting.

He also seems to be recycling ideas; for instance, the "rocking" section of 'Home Again' would have been far more effective in surprising the listener, who'd already settled into the soft groove of it, if it hadn't been lifted right off 'All Because'. Minor quibble, to be sure, but enforcing the general unhappy feeling that Livin' For You is, in fact, the first in a long string of albums where the man finally has nothing new left to say and is forced to repeat himself.

The big hit was 'Let's Get Married', and, regardless of what I say, deservedly so: it's first-class Al Green, tenderness and paranoia and tremendous R'n'B drive all in one. And realism, of course — no clichéd lovey-dovey nonsense or dumb sexual bravado for Mr. Green, he always looks like he's torn between the holi­ness of his feelings and the utmost horror of them — exactly because they're so holy, he's so scared of them; true love, after all, is a very, very scary thing, much more so than simple adultery. If 'Love And Happiness' didn't manage to get the message through, then 'Let's Get Married' certainly will; throughout all of it, you can never really guess if the protagonist offers the girl to get married because he happily means it or because he just wants to get over all of this as soon as possible.

However, the only track that truly points to the future is, odd enough, the album's most light­weight number — 'Sweet Sixteen', a straightahead dance number that could have been disco if it had been just a tad faster. It does take some lyrical and musical clues from 'Sweet Little Sixteen', but overall it's an unrecognizable re-working, with near-robotic funky guitars, "geometrically ar­ranged" string embellishments, strict drum patterns, and just tiny touches of looseness here and there to retain the connection to Green's classic style. One might call it a cheapening of the gene­ral approach, but I'd rather save this remark for the next album, where this "innovation" becomes a commodity; within the context of Livin' For You, it's weirdly refreshing.

In the long run, it's still a thumbs up, of course, but I dare say the album will very rarely show up on the Top-3 for any fans of the Reverend, unless it chances to be the first Al Green record ever heard by them. Incidentally, it also happens to feature the cheesiest album cover from that period: Al Green as a cartoonish towering giant! I'd rather see the man in a pimp hat than that.

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