BILLY PRESTON: BILLY PRESTON & SYREETA (1981)
1) Someone Special; 2) Searchin'; 3) Just For You; 4) It's So Easy; 5) A Long And Lasting Love; 6) Love; 7) One More Try; 8) Hey You; 9) A New Way To Say I Love You; 10) What We Did For Love.
It's almost tedious in its predictability — the Eighties are upon us, and with the first year of the new decade, comes the first genuinely awful album in Billy Preston's discography. And what a sad bit of un-luck, too, that it had to be a duet album with Syreeta Wright, whose sweet voice is the only redeemable feature of the record — and even then, only barely.
Apparently, Motown wished to exploit the success of ʽWith You I'm Born Againʼ to the utmost limit, and steered the two artists towards pooling their talents for a whole session, evenly split between contemporary teenage dance-pop and contemporary adult balladry. In 1979, that could have worked — the dance-pop, at least, given how ʽIt Will Come In Timeʼ still managed to be fun in Billy's usual «one for the kids» way. But now, with «electro-funk» sweeping the waves, synthesizer markets overstocked with brand new production waiting to be exploited, and Prince and Michael Jackson setting new creative standards for dance music that ruined everybody not fully up to the same levels of creativity, «the average mainstream» was going down the drain so fast, it could almost make you wanna cry for the passing of the disco era.
Like I said, this album is atrocious — first and foremost, it is not really a Billy Preston record: his playing here, if it can be called playing at all, is completely lost behind the walls of synthesized strings (if it's balladry) or the programmed drum beats and electronic bass (if it's the shake-yer-booty vibe), and his singing... well, Billy has never been that much of a singer, and when he is doing it face-to-face with Syreeta who, most definitely, is a singer, he hardly ever rises above totally generic vocal clichés.
Second, it would be one thing if it were only the syrupy power ballads that are atrocious (ʽA New Way To Say I Love Youʼ — nope, no dice, really; ʽLoveʼ — who do you think you are to get away with that title? John Lennon?; ʽA Long And Lasting Loveʼ — between you, me, and sweet Yamaha; ʽWhat We Did For Loveʼ — is it just me, or do I see some sort of tendency here?). Unfortunately, the dance grooves, while nowhere near as embarrassing, are just plain boring — there is nothing behind these grooves to demand attention, and nothing in these grooves to suggest somebody here was looking for something other than a quick cash-in.
Actually, I stand corrected: every once in a while, the grooves do tend to become embarrassing, when the artists start exploring their «Hot, Sexy» sides (such as the bridge section of ʽSearchin'ʼ, or the clumsy, halfway-there Prince-isms of ʽJust For Youʼ). Now that dance-oriented artists were explicitly pushed towards «roughing it up» rather than keeping it smooth the way they used to, you either had to reinvent yourself or die trying. Billy and Syreeta died trying, and sometimes the smell gets a little bit too heavy.
Too bad, because, as I mentioned early, Syreeta Wright is a lovely singer, and her vocal talent should not have been wasted on this total tripe — maybe a duet album with Michael Jackson could have been a better proposition. Thumbs down, unless your honorable taste is really perverse and you delicately feed on generic early Eighties' dance-pop like... (insert your favourite insulting line here: «green flies on horse poop» is a good candidate). The good news is, I think this record was never officially released on CD, and here's hoping it never will be.