B. B. KING: KING OF BLUES (1989)
1) (You've Become A) Habit To Me; 2) Drowning In The Sea Of Love; 3) Can't Get Enough; 4) Standing On The Edge; 5) Go On; 6) Let's Straighten It Out; 7) Change In Your Lovin'; 8) Undercover Man; 9) Lay Another Log On The Fire; 10) Business With My Baby; 11) Take Off Your Shoes.
Not to be confused with the old King Of The Blues LP, nor with various compilations of the same name that, truth be told, generally bear it with much more confidence than this overproduced curio piece. Overproduced, but not nearly as worthless as its predecessor. King teamed up with moderately better corporate songwriters this time, and at least there is some real music coming out of the speakers here, rather than the dehumanized electronic dribble into which ye olde classic R'n'B was rapidly deteriorating.
In other words, the record had a slight chance of becoming B. B.'s Midnight Believer for the 1980s. He does not come across as totally uninspired, his sidemen write some tolerable pop ditties and funk rockers, do not make the mistake of saddling him with power ballads, and bring in little-known, but tolerable pros on bass and sax. Alas, they go on to forget two things. First, the man they're dealing with is the king of the blues — that is, after all, what the title says — and, in that respect, there is surprisingly little blues on the album. Second, behind all the keyboards and saxes they forget that the king is here to play his guitar. Not through any evil intent, I'm sure: they just forget. And when they remember, it is sometimes better if they didn't, because on several tracks it clearly looks like Lucille is being run through some yucky synth effect, completely losing the King thing to it.
One excellent number is 'Lay Another Log On The Fire', a hot'n'heavy soul screamer in B. B.'s best traditions, with Lucille clean and crisp, breaking through the sax-and-background-vocals of the blues-de-luxe arrangement as confidently as if she had not just been sterilized with synthesizer treatment at all. A few other tracks at the end, such as 'Business With My Baby Tonight', also have a relatively clean sound — perhaps they were recorded in a different session — but remember that in order to get around to them, you have to pass through the mind-numbing chorus of 'Standing On The Edge' (repeated something like a million times), the drum machines of 'Drowning In The Sea Of Love', the corporate hit-writing machinery of 'Undercover Man', and other things too morally corrupt to mention.
I freely admit to being a little thrilled with '(You've Become A) Habit To Me', though. Despite the cheesy synths, and the treated Lucille sound, the song rides a lean, mean bass line, and establishes a cool atmosphere through the cooperation between that bass and King's vocals. Just one of those several thousand Eighties-recorded songs that had the bad luck to be generated in the mainstream strongholds of that decade, and deserve a rebirth under proper conditions. Couldn't exactly confirm the same for the rest of the material, though, so thumbs down — just in case.
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