Lessons From the Old School
Aside from wondering how much money it cost to re-issue an album for the sake of one interesting bonus track several years after the album’s release date, soul music aficionados and groove lovers may wonder what they missed on For Lovers Only.
The short answer is not a lot.
The Temptations have 57 albums and roughly forty years of music-making under their belts as a wholesome soul group—despite line-up changes which left Otis Williams as the only remaining original Temptation. They have a musical grace that can’t be faked, they exude class without even trying and they are technically incredible vocalists and performers.
Although it’s blasphemy to say that the legends of Motown are no longer relevant to soul music, this effort makes it clear that they’re not as influential when it comes to this whole urban/neo-soul movement, considering the attentive harmonies and classic blend of their voices on these pop standards.
However, they’ve left behind a higher musical bar for boy groups to aspire to—learn how to step while you croon, fall in love with the melody so you can evoke emotion and not pretense, sing love ballads and up-tempo songs with equal grace. Even if this album isn’t thrilling or phenomenal—and it’s not—groups like 112, Jagged Edge and a host of R&B bands to come should take notes from their predecessors.
For Lovers Only has been around for a few years. The veterans dropped the album in 1995; it stayed on the R&B charts for six months, then slipped off the radar again until they came back with Phoenix Rising—their first platinum CD.
“Some Enchanted Evening,” a familiar Rodgers and Hammerstein love song, is a deviation from the old school as the Temptations update it with their brand of nuance and style. Arranger Isias Gamboa and producer Richard Perry are flexible in their revision of classics like this, and it makes songs like “What a Difference a Day Makes” contemporary—even if the songs are stuck somewhere that feels like the 1940s.
There are inspired and unique renditions of “Night and Day”, including the remix, which was included in Mel Gibson’s 2000 film What Women Want. But for the most part, For Lovers Only in 2002 is exactly what it was several years ago - a blueprint for how songs should be catered to and infused with attention to detail, rather than a collage of hooks and interludes. In the sense that the Temptations are always going to hold on to their vocal virility and mastery of technique, this album is an achievement. But this is a disc for the old school lovers, really - a nostalgic make-out record-and not really an album that would merit heavy rotation.