Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Luther Vandross

  • Never Too Much [Epic, 1981] B+
  • Forever, for Always, for Love [Epic, 1982] B+
  • Busy Body [Epic, 1983] C+
  • The Night I Fell in Love [Epic, 1985] B+
  • Give Me the Reason [Epic, 1986] B
  • Any Love [Epic, 1988] B-
  • The Best of Luther Vandross . . . the Best of Love [Epic, 1989] A-
  • Love Power [Epic, 1991] Neither
  • Never Let Me Go [Epic, 1993] Neither
  • Greatest Hits [Epic, 1999] Neither

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Never Too Much [Epic, 1981]
In music as tactful as this, where so much of the meaning is carried on the skip and flow of rhythm and timbre, songwriting doesn't matter all that much. So Vandross can attach tropes like "sugar and spice" and "she's a super lady" to undistinguished melodies and make me like them. But when his touch is just a little off, the great hit single you've just heard (or at least the good one that's sure to follow) seems almost as forgettable as the loser he's singing. B+

Forever, for Always, for Love [Epic, 1982]
Well, depends on what you mean by love--like any studio habitue Vandross is a sensualist at heart, an aural libertine who revels in sheer sound at the expense of any but the most received sense. His voice is so luxuriant I can understand why fans go all the way with him. But only on "She Loves Me Back" (set apart by the hard K at the end of the title phrase) do I really love him back myself. B+

Busy Body [Epic, 1983]
Not counting "Superstar" and "Until You Come Back to Me," which perish in the tragic flood of feeling that finishes this album off, the only songs here that might conceivably survive without their support system are "I'll Let You Slide," which Luther lets slip, and the one that donates its title to the venture. Nor does Luther augment the support system's golden-voiced rep by sharing "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye" with Dionne Warwick, who cuts him from here to Sunday. In short, he sounds like an ambitious backup singer. C+

The Night I Fell in Love [Epic, 1985]
Though Vandross's devotion to pure singing will always be too pure to admit much content, his material has improved. Marcus Miller makes the fast ones hop to, and the ballads retain their shape no matter how far Luther stretches them--only dud's the ridiculously well-named "My Sensitivity (Gets in the Way)." On "It's Over Now" Mr. Nice Guy even orders his treat-him-bad woman to "hit the road"--although it is his femme backups who utter the actual words. B+

Give Me the Reason [Epic, 1986]
If only Luther had a little less integrity he might sell out--he's such a great singer he could transform crossover twaddle into universal trivia without even breathing hard. Alas, he's also such a great singer he doesn't have to. But not such a great singer he can interest simple pop fans in his own songs. B

Any Love [Epic, 1988]
Your grandma had a saying that applied to Luther, though he's so unstuck-up she would have hesitated to use it on him: "That fellow's certainly in love with the sound of his own voice." B-

The Best of Luther Vandross . . . the Best of Love [Epic, 1989]
Vandross is without question the decade's premier pop (forget "black" pop) singer, and this figured to be where he beats Marcus Miller's straitjacket beats and drummed not hummed past his own humdrum songwriting. It is, too--by about an inch and a half. I know it may only be me, but what do the ladies hear in his slow ones? The quiet sheen of his timbre is distinctive and luxurious, a cross between power and velvet--like male Dionne Warwick. But I swear his voice isn't as beautiful as El DeBarge's or Al Green's, and beyond his trademark niceness, all caring and credulous, he's emotionally unreadable. As a result, showstopping tours de feeling like "A House Is Not a Home" and "Superstar" are as incomprehensible to the uninitiated as his d.o.a. Gregory Hines duet. But on his catchiest dance songs, including every one here, he embodies the long-forgotten disco synthesis of comfort and energy. And the medium-tempo stuff is anonymous pop at its most personable. A-

Love Power [Epic, 1991] Neither

Never Let Me Go [Epic, 1993] Neither

Greatest Hits [Epic, 1999] Neither