Greetings, Glancers! I have high hopes for this one. To me, the Motown sound comes down to The Supremes and The Jacksons. Of course, it’s more varied, but when I think of Motown, I think of these two groups first and foremost. While I grew up with The Jacksons and Michael, I never owned or heard any albums by The Supremes or Diana Ross. I did hear a bunch of their songs, and in most cases loved all of them. I have quite a few Supremes songs in my car playlist, and some of these appear on this very album. The album seems to be a mixture of covers and Supremes originals, so I’m excepting sweet harmonies and bouncy melodies. Let’s do this.
‘Stranger In Paradise‘ isn’t one I’m familiar with, but sounds very dated – the pace and the dreary strings – it feels like a song from a few decades earlier. The singers do what they can with it so I can tolerate it, but wouldn’t choose to hear it again.
‘Yesterday‘ is The Beatles, obvs. I didn’t know The Supremes had covered it, though I suppose everyone has. It’s spruced up in a jangling, twinkling way, and the strings give it a fuller feeling than the original. The main difference is of course the vocals, Diana retains the sadness of The Beatles version and again gives it a meatier boost, but adds some unnecessary little ticks at various points.
‘I Hear A Symphony’ is on my playlist in the car. It’s pure, fun Motown pop. It does sound similar to some other Supremes songs, but on its own it still hits all its marks. Sunny, lovely.
‘Unchained Melody‘ is one of my most hated songs ever. Man, it just never goes away. I’m not sure why I have such feelings against it in my heart, definitely the overplaying and success it has had is part of it, but beyond that I find it exceptionally boring and emotionless for what others see as this big heartfelt thing. I just don’t feel it, or get it. I don’t mind the lead lines, the melodies are changed up just enough from what I know to take him them sweeter, but the backing vocals are not great – I’m not sure what they’re going for but those harmonies are not in sync with anything else going on. This is probably the best version I’ve heard of a song I can’t stand, though it does round out of steam towards the end like every other version.
‘With A Song In My Heart‘ instantly feels dated again – those violins reek of the crappy musicals of ages gone by. The vocals make the song tolerable again, but like many of the songs from those musicals, there isn’t a single interesting melody and they seem designed as background music for slow dances. Just feels a little pointless.
‘Without A Song’ continues that trend. More slow dance, uneventful music. At least this one has more of a formula than the previous one. There are some bell-like keys and percussion going on, but they don’t help.
‘My World Is Empty Without You‘ is another one already on my playlist, and it’s such a step above the other songs so far. It’s full-on Motown genius, bouncy, perfectly blending funk and pop in the guise of a ballad. I love the switches from major to minor, all the instruments shouldn’t work together – but do – and the melodies have actual stakes and merit.
‘A Lover’s Concerto‘ opens with…. is that Bach? It then shifts into another Motown pop song. Why is this familiar to me? The vocal melodies are following the Bach melody, I assume that’s why. It’s a little jarring if I’m honest… I’m not sure if it works, but I think I like it. It’s definitely weird to me, putting words to a piece of classical music I sort of know. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has been done, but it reminds me of when they put lyrics to the Eastenders theme tune.
‘Any Girl In Love‘ opens with a brief brass parp which leads succinctly into some of the better harmonies and melodies on the album. This is a new one on me, it feels like it bridges the gap effectively between the dreary junk of old, and the more engaging inventive pop of the time. It’s classy and memorable.
‘Wonderful Wonderful‘ doesn’t give me good feelings from the off – instantly returning 40 years into the early years of the 20th Century. Those whining strings, the tame beat. Luckily though, the overall melodies and vocals bring it out of the mire of ye olde music, so it isn’t so distasteful to me. If I had been around in the 1920s, and perhaps I was, I could see myself tolerating a dance or two to this.
‘Everything Is Good About You‘ starts with a brighter, more familiar Motown beat. Now, I could say it’s samey to some other Supremes hits – it certainly seems to be going that way – but it’s a beat and sound I enjoy. Mostly I’m just glad it’s not another cover of some dismal ancient ballache. It’s hardly close to their best work, not enough edge, not any harmonies to speak of, and lacks a killer hook, but it’s still fine.
‘He’s All I Got‘ closes the album in what appears to be a more traditional Motown vein. Again it’s bouncy, poppy, sweet verse melodies, and catchy chorus, all supplemented with guitars, clangs, horns, and strings. It’s a step above the previous song, but a step below the ones I’m putting in my playlist. Maybe I’d like it more with more listens, but nothing wrong here.
This wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Half of it was, but the other half were daft covers of songs from a genre I’m not a fan of – those old-time soulless ballads from an era when music asked no questions and was merely tactless dressing. The other half – the good half – features a number of songs I was already familiar with, and a few I wasn’t. These are mostly where the group shines and allow their energy and joy to come through. It’s a pity there wasn’t a few more tracks on the good half to tip into the majority of the album being enjoyable, but I hope that comes in later releases.
Nightman’s Playlist: Any Girl In Love. I Hear A Symphony. My World Is Empty Without You. Lovers Concerto.