Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Temptations - Sky's The Limit (1971)


  

Released April 1971

After three "psychedelic soul" albums produced by Norman Whitfield, this one saw a slight change in that it includes more soulful material, as opposed to funky extended "message" songs. It was also the final album to feature Eddie Kendricks before he left to pursue a solo career. Relations within the group were at a real low point, although it doesn't come across listening to the album.

The opener, "Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love" is a string-orchestrated romantic number and that can be said even more for the huge hit single, "Just Your Imagination (Running Away With Me)". It is a perfect creation and is regular included in those "all time Motown best of" lists. "I'm The Exception To The Rule", previously recorded by the Marvelettes in 1964, is a big production, dramatic ballad. After the dynamic impact of the previous three albums, it came as something of a surprise to hear these sweet soul grooves replacing all the fuzzy guitar and funky wah-wah sounds.

The brooding soul/funk thankfully returns, however, with the buzz twelve minute workout of "Smiling Faces Sometimes". This track was also recorded by The Undisputed Truth and it achieved more success with them. There are long extended instrumental passages in the track, starting a trend that would notably continue with the following year's "Papa Was A Rolling Stone". The psychedelic essence to the lengthier tracks was now being replaced by an insistent, orchestrated soul backing. these were now big production soul numbers as opposed to sixties-influenced psychedelic soul numbers. "Man" is a short, harmonious gospelly number about the working life. I am sure Bruce Springsteen's "Factory" was influenced by this one in parts. Like "Man", "Throw A Farewell Kiss" is a melodious, piano-driven ballad that eventually gets bassy and powerful. These cuts were far removed from "Message From A Black Man", for example, neither do they have a typical Motown sound.

The one other slightly "conscious" song is the upbeat, fuzzy, Staple Singers-influenced  "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)" with its thumping Northern Soul, stomping beat. The final track is the album's other lengthy one, "Love Can Be Anything". It has funky passages and some deep rhythms and paves the way for albums like 1973's "Masterpiece". There is all sorts in it - jazzy parts, funky parts, sweeping strings, harmonious vocals, punchy horns. It does seem a bit indulgent in places, though, despite some good parts. The same applies to this album, actually. It is nowhere near as impressive as the previous three, despite occasional high points. There is general feeling of incompleteness about it. Maybe that tension within the band and also with the producer was more apparent than it initially appeared to be.

C+

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