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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bobby Womack: The Poet II


1) Love Has Finally Come At Last; 2) It Takes A Lot Of Strength To Say Goodbye; 3) Through The Eyes Of A Child; 4) Surprise, Surprise; 5) Tryin' To Get Over You; 6) Tell Me Why; 7) Who's Foolin' Who; 8) I Wish I Had Someone To Go Home To; 9) American Dream.

Playing the «sequel game» is always a risky business, and if you are doing it in the hedonistic / technocrazy 1980s, and if you have already shown declining immunity to musical crap-a-titis in the disco era, winning chances are slim. It all begins, as usual, with the album cover: same Bobby, same guitar, but the way he is dressed and the way he is wielding it shows that the fashionable Bobby is out, and Bobby «The Ladies' Man» Womack is in. Of course, the man was never a stranger to direct sexual attraction, but this presentation is a tad too obvious.

So it comes as no big surprise that the first three songs are rather shapeless, and emotionally si­milar, R&B ballads on which Bobby engages Patti LaBelle in a series of soulful duets, every one of which, sooner or later, turns into a screaming match — which Bobby inevitably loses, because trying to outscream Patti LaBelle is a futile enterprise for any man. The songs are extremely bland and generic, though, just the regular anthemic, overproduced crapola of the times, and not even Bobby's guitar licks, moving closer and closer to regular jazz patterns, can redeem the lack of memorable melodies or the empty keyboard sound. Besides that, Patti LaBelle's singing style is also an acquired taste (most of the time, the lady operates in overdrive mode, and that can wear a listener out pretty quickly).

It gets a little better from there on in the songwriting department, but not in the production area. ʽSurprise, Surpriseʼ is written in late period Stevie Wonder's style (soft, steady dance rhythms, gently rocking synths, catchy chorus, etc.) and has a touch of genuine tenderness to it (percussion is really dreadful though). ʽWho's Foolin' Whoʼ is actually a potentially great electrofunk groove, but also spoiled with excesses (silly backing harmonies and way too many synth overdubs — why didn't they just leave it all to Bobby and the bass guitar?). And probably the best two songs are left for last: ʽI Wish I Had Someone To Go Home Toʼ finally gives us a pinch of classic Bob­by Womack desperation, featuring his best (most credible, at least) vocals on the entire record, in addition to some surprising tone and mood changes from verse to bridge — and ʽAmerican Dreamʼ, hinting at the latter's unreachability, is a fairly grand social statement to conclude such a lightweight album, but at least it's a curious conclusion (even incorporating a bit of Martin Luther King for extra heaviness). «Probably» the best, because, like everything else, these songs, too, suffer from dated production ideas.

Despite a few bright spots, the album as a whole still gets a thumbs down. It did manage to sell relatively well, carried on by memories of The Poet, but, nevertheless, failed to match the sales and chart success of its predecessor, and initiated the beginning of Bobby's final (as we all thought until recently) slide into total obscurity and oblivion. The LaBelle duets that were re­leased as singles never matched the success of ʽIf You Think You're Lonely Nowʼ, either. And yet, at the same time, The Poet II is clearly way more commercially-oriented than The Poet, a much more clearly calculated / manipulative affair that should have duped the public, but did not, maybe because of the presence of so many fresh new stars in the early 1980s who actually had interesting new things to say — Bobby, on the other hand, was pretty much spent with that one last gasp, no matter how much his cheerful poise on the album cover, with so many inches of his guitar sticking out your way, try to insinuate the opposite.

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