For the most part, R&B doesn’t do high concept. The only thing I can really think of from the ’70s which is an exception is Funkadelic (and Parliament, too, I guess), where there is a concept, only it’s extremely nutty and kind of impenetrable. (Well, I can think of other albums which are built around themes more than concepts, but are only concept albums in the loosest sense.)
Well, there’s little mistaking this concept, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, having listened to a hell of a lot of ’70s soul with little to no ambition beyond having good songs, it’s extremely refreshing to have an explicit concept. Moreover, Jackson has mostly got material that fits the concept, even if a few of these songs predate the record.
Whether she’s the girlfriend or the wife, Jackson inhabits her role with conviction. So much so that I actually got slightly confused on first listen, when I wasn’t paying attention, and thought I had missed something. I thought the second side was later on, after a divorce and remarriage. But that’s because I wasn’t paying complete attention. Anyway, I like how there are no breaks between tracks, something that had been happening in rock music for ages but which feels fresh in soul.
Even though this was recorded with the Swampers, it’s slightly slicker than I usually like my southern soul. (My guess that is Jackson and her co-producer’s fault. I mean, they’d be responsible for the orchestration…) But Jackson herself is so damn compelling that I quickly forgot that I found the music a little too slick. Also, this is the ’70s, so everything was insanely slick. Though this is slick, it does have a tiny bit of an edge, certainly relative to the era. (Though it’s mostly provided by Jackson, herself, especially on the tracks with strings.)
Anyway, this is pretty great stuff. Can’t believe I’d never heard it before. (And I honestly don’t even remember hearing of it before.)
PS That last song is icky, especially given that it was written by a man – ewww – but the music is good, and I guess I have to accept that Jackson wouldn’t have chosen to sing it if it didn’t resonate with her.