Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Three for Love [Solar, 1980] A-
  • Go for It [Solar, 1981] A-
  • Friends [Solar, 1982] B-
  • Greatest Hits [Solar, 1982] A-
  • The Look [Solar, 1983] B+
  • Heart Break [Solar, 1985] B
  • Greatest Hits [Right Stuff/Solar, 1999] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Three for Love [Solar, 1980]
In which these Soul Train-trained pretty-boy/girl teen-throbs make good every which way on the commercial breakthrough of 1979's Big Fun. Including commercially, of course--more hits than Dick Griffey could fit into a release schedule here. Hits subclassification "soul," I mean--as in "black," or "r&b," or should we just say "race music"? Or "not pop"? Which is pretty weird, since the album's theme song ought to be the finale, "Pop Along Kid"--pop as in the kind of music it is, and also as in what their funk does. It pops, as in "popping bass" and "finger-pop." Griffey, who understands the marketplace far better than I, hasn't put it on his release schedule. A-

Go for It [Solar, 1981]
What they're going for is the gold. Especially when headstrong dandy Jeffrey Daniel displaces shifty houseservant Leon Sylvers III in the driver's seat, the rhythms mean to stomp out funk rumors--"Rocker," this finale is called, as if that should settle those nagging airplay questions once and for all. It won't, but amazingly, the damage is minimal; because their lissome interplay runs deeper than groove, this is as creamy and sensual as ever. Those with a taste for postpretentious epiphany should keep an ear out for the very pretty slow one that goes "In the final analysis [long pause] I love you." A-

Friends [Solar, 1982]
Their first album since WEA started distributing Solar is also their first album since the one they wrote themselves failed to go top one-hundred. And it's also safe and sorry: Leon Sylvers and cohorts in complete control. Sure they'll score their ghettoized best-sellers, maybe even sell their allotted five hundred thou. But there'll be no reason to cry foul when that's all they do. B-

Greatest Hits [Solar, 1982]
Five of ten cuts began life on Three for Love, which nevertheless has better to offer--amid corporate machinations too tawdry to detail, this profit-taker goes with what went, and so ends up a little soft. On the other hand, it's silly to seek sharp edges from the Solar production signature--anonymity is its strategy. Tuneful love songs feature the warm, mildly acrid tenor of Howard Hewett and the perky, slightly insinuating soprano of Jody Watley. Say Ray Parker and Prince are rockers in disguise and call it the most consistent black pop of the postdisco era. A-

The Look [Solar, 1983]
I prefer Go for It's soft-spoken groove, but the brilliant vocals and processed high-end percussion of their latest crossover move are an up. Added group participation probably helps, though contract players continue to dominate. And it definitely helps that the contract players have written some hits with punch, both certified--the percussive "Dead Giveaway"--and honorary--the Jeffrey Daniel vehicle "No Limits (The Now Club)." B+

Heart Break [Solar, 1985]
There's no denying the vivacity of Howard Hewett's reconstituted trio--the harmonies and rhythms pop out of the speakers with a brightness of definition that's good for a real lift. But if Hewett has any other interests, he doesn't make them plain--always look again when the standout track comes from contract songwriters. And if Hewett's new sidekicks have any other interests, their solo turns make me hope they keep them out of earshot. B

Greatest Hits [Right Stuff/Solar, 1999]
Circa 1980, just after these Soul Train trainees pushed off the blocks, "urban" was reghettoized on the radio. So they did their best to appear not just pop but rock; whether they were that other thing wasn't discussed in polite company. Only now can we say it loud--they were disco. Producer-penned songs work courtship tropes with acceptable panache, but the content is all silky, luscious sound. Arrangements mix funk lite with kick-drum four and add enough strings to aerate the concoction. Voices promise whipped-cream sex that'll taste of mackerel in the morning. A