Teena Marie has made a comeback of late, nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for “Still in Love”. So it is fitting that her first Epic album, from 1989, should be re-released in a remastered version with bonus tracks.
The title may well have been inspired from her time at Motown. After three CDs, she tried to leave and became involved in litigation with the company. She won a landmark suit, creating an initiative that stopped record companies from binding a performer to a contract while refusing to release their material.
Fortunately she was still going strong when she reached Epic. Robbery is made for the dance floor. The bass and drums are brought way up in the mix. Marie even lets out “whoop whoop’s” on the title track.
The music is based around Marie’s “disco diva” voice, which is in great form. The tracks have top musicians on them, such as Nathan East on bass, Steve Ferrone on drums, and Ernie Watts on sax. Since Marie pretty much belts out each song and often sings very fast, the lyrics are hard to understand. That does not really detract, since the feeling is the real message.
Except for one she co-wrote, Marie wrote all the songs herself. They sound a bit alike, in that they are all designed for dramatic effect and to show off her voice. It is easy to hear shades of “Lovergirl”, her crossover hit from the following year.
It is an exceptional voice. Marie, one of the few white R&B stars, has the necessary range and vibrato, and a power than makes it hard to believe that she is less than five feet tall. She has a strong attack, but it works on the ballads “Shadow Boxing”, “Dear Lover”, and “Casanova Brown”, as well as the more dance-oriented songs like “Robbery” and “Playboy”. The ballads, which are backed by string arrangements, sound much more contemporary alongside today’s R&B.
“Casanova Brown”, reportedly about her breakup with mentor Rick James, is a jazz / pop number that could have used a bit less vocal bombast. But it is an impressive song nonetheless that could be slipped into one of the many “Great American Songbook” CDs that are now in style.
Besides her voice, the other star here is the production, again done by Marie. The bonus tracks put that in perspective, particularly the instrumental version of “Midnight Magnet”. Nathan East’s Roland synthesizer bass and the keyboard synthesizers are the lead instruments, with guitars playing choppy funk and the drums slapping in time. It has the sound of a late eighties tune, but the layering and balance of the instruments is superb.
Marie does not overuse synthesizers on this CD, a common fault of music from this era. There are also some well done horn arrangements which add to the variety of instrumental backup.
The other two bonus tracks are 12-inch remixes of two songs on the CD, “Playboy” and “Fix-It”. They are not improvements over the originals, but interesting to listen to for the production differences.
Robbery is a product of its time, but with ballads and a jazz influence that transcend its dance music base.