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Monday, May 7, 2018

Marvin Gaye: That's The Way Love Is

MARVIN GAYE: THAT'S THE WAY LOVE IS (1970)

1) Gonna Give Her All The Love I've Got; 2) Yesterday; 3) Groovin'; 4) I Wish It Would Rain; 5) That's The Way Love Is; 6) How Can I Forget; 7) Abraham, Martin And John; 8) Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love; 9) No Time For Tears; 10) Cloud Nine; 11) Don't You Miss Me A Little Bit; 12) So Long.

General verdict: A VERY low dip before the beginning of the resurrection.


If there was one album that really, really did not need to exist at this stage in Marvin Gaye's career, this is it. Not only is this basically just another hastily assembled grab-bag that Motown put out as a follow-up to the success of the title track hit (and not only had this hit itself already been released on Marvin's previous LP at that!), but the last thing that must have been on Marvin's mind at the time was putting out a record of stereotypical, and mostly recycled, Motown love anthems. Tammi went into a coma two weeks after the record's release, Marvin's personal life and psychic condition were in tatters, and yet he had to go into the studio and sing songs with titles like ʽGonna Give Her All The Love I've Gotʼ and ʽGonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Loveʼ as if nothing was out of order.

Other than the closing pop-rocker ʽSo Longʼ, every other song here had previously been recorded by at least one popular artist — a record low for Marvin, whose R&B albums up to date had always included at least one or two self-penned originals and/or at least a few songs specially written for him by Barrett & Strong, or Ashford & Simpson, or somebody else among Motown's large roster of resident songwriters. You do have the time-honored Funk Brothers team providing the instrumentation, the magnificent Andantes providing the backing vocals, and Mr. Marvin himself striving to reach the usual quality level, so the album is perfectly listenable; the only thing is, there is no good reason to listen to it.

Songs from his Motown brethren are rendered here quite loyally, without any improvements or interesting modifications from the originals — like, what is the point of remaking ʽI Wish It Would Rainʼ and ʽCloud Nineʼ if you cannot uncover anything in these songs that The Temp­tations had not uncovered on their own? Conversely, ʽYesterdayʼ takes a radical departure from Paul McCartney, but ends up suffering from the usual curse inflicted on most R&B covers of white boy pop hits — the results are bloated, over-orchestrated, over-sung, over-emoted, and just generally schlocky (Marvin probably takes his cue from Ray Charles, but at least Ray Charles had his trademark piano and his grizzly voice to make his cover special; Gaye's version is just impossibly sappy and sentimental). He does a better job with The Young Rascals' ʽGroovin'ʼ, largely because the song itself was fairly R&B-ish from the start... but it's not really a very good song in the first place, is it?

One of the tunes, a Dick Holler composition originally recorded by Dion, is ʽAbraham, Martin And Johnʼ, whose meaning and message is pretty self-evident from the title. It is not a good song at all — another piece of not particularly memorable folk-pop schlock with absolutely inane lyrics (apparently, the songwriter thought that simply replacing one name with another would be sufficient basis for four different verses — but where the hell is the reference to Bobby in the title?) — but it is formally a telling precursor to Marvin's socially conscious approach on What's Going On, one of his first, still quite half-hearted, attempts to use his musical platform for some­thing with socially redeeming values; and the arrangement style is actually fairly close to what he would be soon doing on his next album. But even so, the tune inevitably gets lost, surrounded by all the stereotypical recordings around it, and its historical value is best perceived in retrospect.

Indeed, from a contextual point of view, That's The Way Love Is raises far more indignation than any such album that could have been released five or even three years earlier: at an age when the artistic value of the LP was arguably higher than any other time, Motown saddled Marvin with an LP whose filler value exceeded just about anything he'd ever released before (with the exception of his show tune albums, of course). This was like the textbook illustration for «adding insult to injury» — after something like that, the artist usually only has two choices: fade away into embarrassment and irrelevance, or fight like crazy to get his soul back. Lucky for us, the man would have it in him to go for the second choice.

1 comment:

  1. Groovin and Abraham, etc. are great pieces of 60s pop. They didn't need to covered by Marvin, of course, but the hit singles are wonderful. And his take on Cloud 9 is inferior to the Tempts (the tempo is too fast, for one thing) but it at least has some of the strangest guitar parts you'll hear on a Motown track.

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