One need only revisit the pop charts of the ‘60s to get a sense of the musical juggernaut known as Motown. A bit of further inspection will show that amidst a stellar roster of hit makers, the Temptations, (along with the Miracles and the Supremes), were one of the label’s cornerstone acts. Scoring three dozen Top Ten hits over an expansive career, including the signature tune “My Girl”, the Temps established themselves as a model for perfection: Beautifully recorded songs, exquisite vocals, and of course, sharp suits and slick stage moves. Can anyone say that the classic lineup of Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, and David Ruffin was something short of brilliant? Absolutely not, and therein lies the problem: As extraordinary as the original group was, any current incarnation will pale in comparison.
With Otis Williams as the remaining link to the past, the 2004 version of the Temptations is similar to its predecessor in name only. The 12 songs from the new album Legacy are an amalgam of R&B-influenced pop, but bear little if any resemblance to the group’s work of four decades past.
The prelude to the opening track “Still Tempting” states that the song is the “spirit and creed of the Temptations.” That may be true, but the strength of the harmonies falls much closer to Boyz II Men. Such is also the case with track #7, the aching love song, “You Are Necessary in My Life (The Wedding Song)”.
Listening closely, one will notice a similar trend: Various influences and similarities resonate throughout the album, ranging from the Barry White inspired intros on “Somethin’ Special” and “Mr. Fix It”, to wisps of vintage Earth, Wind and Fire, but there are scant reminders of the trademark Temptations sound. Even the bouncy “‘Round Here” more closely resembles early ‘70s Curtis Mayfield funk than mid-‘60s Motown cool.
While Legacy is buoyed by a workman-like pop R&B sensibility, particularly on “Fifty Fifty Love” and “All The Wrong People”, an interesting deviation comes by way of “Why Can’t We Be Lovin’ Friends”. Solidified by the vocal contributions of Danesha Simon, the collaborative effort makes for a uniquely strong recording, and is reminiscent of the constant crossing of paths by Motown label mates in the ‘60s.
Overall, Legacy is a satisfying, albeit generic, R&B album, but one that is light years removed from what the original Temptations were. That may be the largest obstacle to overcome as the continued use of the group name could, a) be viewed as disingenuous by some Motown purists, and b) create an entirely unrealistic expectation for what the new recording should be.
It may be easiest to simply accept the current music for what it is, and avoid the thought of revisiting the greatness of days long gone. The Temptations’ legacy is one that can never be equaled, thus we should revel in the group’s magnificent past, while enjoying what the current line-up has to offer.