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Monday, February 26, 2018

Marvin Gaye: Moods Of Marvin Gaye


1) I'll Be Doggone; 2) Little Darling (I Need You); 3) Take This Heart Of Mine; 4) Hey Diddle Diddle; 5) One More Heartache; 6) Ain't That Peculiar; 7) Night Life; 8) You've Been A Long Time Coming; 9) Your Unchanging Love; 10) You're The One For Me; 11) I Worry About You; 12) One For My Baby.

General verdict: A formulaic collection this time, but at least the formula is right.

There is an abundance of hit singles on this record — five out of six songs on Side A, to be precise, and another one on Side B, all of them landing within the Top 50 on the general charts and within the Top 20 on the R&B charts, meaning, cumulatively, the highest recognition Marvin had received to that date. Nevertheless, in retrospect I would say that Moods Of Marvin Gaye is not a particularly great album from that period. It does have maybe one or two moments of utter pop brilliance, but too many of these songs seem content with repeating the formula of previous successes — and then, too, there are occasional sightings of the Broadway ghosts that do not make things easier (now that Marvin had given up on the idea of fully «adult-oriented» LPs, he was still trying to sneak in a couple lounge / show tunes, hoping in vain that such inclusions would somehow ennoble the overall listening experience).

The best, as it often happens, comes first: ʽI'll Be Doggoneʼ, contributed by Smokey Robinson and his co-writers from The Miracles, is a prime example of old-school male chauvinism masquerading as adorable pop catchiness — the transition from cheerful verse to riled-up bridge and to the oddly pacified chorus is a fine catch of one man's confused and contradictory feelings. Not a lot of chances you'll be hearing that one on a contemporary vocal talent show (who in his right mind would want to sing how "every woman should try to be whatever her man wants her to be?" these days), but that does not make the vocal melody, spiced up by perfectly placed response vocals from The Miracles and The Andantes, any less of a knock-out. The funniest thing is that the accompanying instrumental melody is not so much R&B as it is folk-pop, almost directly ripping off the basic chords of ʽNeedles And Pinsʼ — something that The Searchers never failed to notice, and faithfully returned the service by covering ʽI'll Be Doggoneʼ themselves almost as soon as the single came out in 1965 (and a pretty good cover that was, too).

After that, however, things take a turn for the... well, somewhat less exciting. This is still very decent Motown fare, written by the usual professionals, recorded by the usual session greats, backed by the usual wonderful teams of back vocalists, and sung by Marvin as best he can, but it can hardly be denied that the Motown factory recycled trends even more often than it set them, and here there is a bit too much recycling for my tastes. For instance, ʽAin't That Peculiarʼ, one of Marvin's biggest hits, clearly recycles vocal and instrumental parts from ʽCan I Get A Witnessʼ, but without carrying over that song's subtle sense of irony — this here is a soulful-sentimental declaration that will not put a smile on your face (yet is still too bouncy and poppy to put a tear in your eye). And on the other side of the LP, ʽYour Unchanging Loveʼ is an open attempt to repeat the formula of ʽHow Sweet It Isʼ, but without an equally penetrating and convincing hook.

In fact, I would say that, in general, much of this album sounds like an inferior preview of Mar­vin's upcoming duet albums with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell — the songwriting is more or less equally formulaic in both cases, but at least the duet setting opened up more room for lively drama and artistry. As it is, ʽLittle Darling (I Need You)ʼ sounds like Marvin covering The Supremes; ʽTake This Heart Of Mineʼ sounds like Marvin covering Martha & The Vandellas; ʽOne More Heartacheʼ sounds like Marvin covering The Temptations; and ʽNight Lifeʼ sounds like Marvin covering Ray Price... oh wait a minute, it is Marvin covering Ray Price. It's all good enough, but the music offers few emotional revelations or technical advances, and the level of soulful depth is beginning to get just a tad too shallow for 1966 (although, admittedly, half of these singles were released in the much more innocent 1965 — isn't it amazing how, back in that time, one tiny year in music seemed like an entire epoch?).

The overall level of fun, however, only begins to seriously drop down by the time we reach the last bunch of songs — for some reason, Marvin decided to finish the record on a serious Broad­way note, burrowing himself into oldies such as ʽI Worry About Youʼ and ʽOne For My Baby (And One For The Road)ʼ, the latter dragging on for an interminable four and a half minutes as Marvin slowly and stubbornly tries on Frank's nicely polished shoes. Then you remember that the title of the album, after all, is clearly a throwback to the title of his first album (The Soulful Moods), and, once again, the suspicion arises that Marvin felt himself restricted and cheapened by Motown's teen formula, and that all those covers of oldies were some sort of subconscious protest against that... admirable, perhaps, but just not particularly exciting. In any case, Moods Of Marvin Gaye is still a good proposition for those who simply want more Marvin Gaye rather than a new-and-improved Marvin Gaye. Fortunately, the times kept a-changin', and the new-and-improved Marvin Gaye was also waiting just around the corner.

1 comment:

  1. You could do revisions of Laura Marling's records, please.