I don’t know Marvin Gaye at all, beyond his most famous singles. I guess his Motown stuff is just too slick for me, so I never bothered. I still mean to listen to What’s Going On at some point but I just haven’t gotten there. I don’t know much about his personal life, either, beyond what I’ve read on Wikipedia.
I’m also pretty unfamiliar with this era of soul, when soul was going sort of “post disco,” incorporating funk and disco and trying to be more contemporary in the way it was danceable.
So I have very little context for this, beyond the Lionel Richie album I just listened to. (This is much better.) I don’t know where this fits in contemporary R&B or whether this is some kind of creative comeback right before Gaye’s death.
What I do know is that “Sexual Healing” is rightfully famous – though not a fan of the genre myself, I understand why this song is so damned popular – but that the rest of the material on the record is nowhere near as catchy, “sexy” or compelling. Gaye’s melodies on these tracks aren’t as likely to get stuck in your head and the lyrics… well, I assume the lyrics were not one of Gaye’s strengths. (Yes, he has some classic songs with decent lyrics but I wonder how consistent that is through his catalogue.) Of course, it’s soul, and it’s about the performance not the lyrics.
Gaye is a great singer and his voice is on display here, and he does appear to use it in different ways. He has created interesting enough arrangements so that he can show off his voice without it feeling like the songs exist solely to show off his voice.
But the overall production has dated pretty poorly, with the synth bass and some of the other synthesizers sounding particularly “early ’80s” (Fortunately the horns and guitar are real, which helps. I think the bass is real on some tracks, as well, but not on all of them.)
It’s really not the worst production as 1982 goes which brings me back to the songs: I think the songs are just not compelling enough – or, perhaps, the performances not quite funky enough – for me to enjoy the album in spite of the production. Gaye is not James Brown or Funkadelic and so the jammy parts of the songs feel like imitations of the genuine article. He should have stuck to the shorter songs, I think.