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Never actually intended for release (Gaye had to pretty much be looking down the barrel of a shotgun before deeming anything finished), In Our Lifetime represented the very last straw for Motown Records. Of course, it might be expected that that would've come when Gaye verbally ass-raped his boss's sister for 73 minutes on Here, My Dear, but no, that wasn't the case ...

If nothing else, Berry Gordy sure was willing to try to squeeze one more egg out of his mangy golden goose. As for the album itself, this one is usually considered a shining example of the clanking doldrums Gaye had descended to in the late-70's / early-80's ... he was unfocused, unloved, and wouldn't listen to advice that what everyone really wanted was another Off the Wall, and why didn't he try a Jheri Curl hairstyle like those fine Commodores boys?

But I don't hear that ... In Our Lifetime is Gaye's most focused work at least since Let's Get It On, and though it lacks any real classics, it doesn't meander like Fidel Castro on E with an inner-ear infection, or get drowned in a furry dark well of its own horn like the last two albums did.

Lifetime is reasonably upbeat and well-arranged, with that sort of easy, slick funk that was the stomping ground of Kool and the Gang and The Commodores during the R&B recession years between disco and Thriller. So yeah, there's a horn chart in the distractingly bubbly "Praise", that reminds me of that Herb Alpert song that always plays during the Parade of Homes show on TV, but there's also a sneaky grindy little freak of a minimalist groove that drives the piercing (and self-mocking) bonus track "Ego Tripping Out", so you get a little light with the dark, and that's where Gaye strikes gold.

One viewpoint is that all of Gaye's later albums (except Diana and Marvin, of course) have been concept albums. But Lifetime is different, because it actually adjusts the music to the song. His concept here is the duality of man between good and evil, greed and giving, love and hate - and the music actually reflects that.

It's Gaye's most successful album concept-wise, because it sticks with the concept. This is, you know, 'bout life 'n stuff, but it doesn't preach. So whilst I can have a great time dissecting Gaye's own duality while listening to the album, I can also enjoy the singing, and the fact that the crystal-clear light thump music was made by real-life people.

Unfortunately, the album leaves space for the brainless disco of "Love Party" (where he's really talking 'bout partying with God) - the only bad song here. And "Love Me Now Or Love Me Later" is a sort of condensed Reader's Digest version of the Book of Genesis, though - with its strong emphasis on the whole 'free will' thing - it rambles, but the weird intertwined Funkadelic guitar overdubs provide something to focus on while Gaye tries to figure out through stream-of-conscious babble what the hell he is trying to say (I'm not sure he ever does).

My favorite track is the truly telling "Far Cry", a number heavily indebted to Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" in sound, with Gaye sounding so exhausted and jaded he almost doesn't hold it together, so he ends up creating a sort of near-worldless mouth jazz that sounds beamed in from planet Sly. Then it becomes a reprise of Trouble Man at the snap of a finger - cool.

In Our Lifetime isn't going to impress non-Gaye fans, as it's far too attached to a musical style that's become dated, nor does it include songs that people would recognize - it's strange pop, and a far cry from past glories. Still, after a long time during which Gaye sounded too drugged-out to enunciate his grand vision, and too lazy to focus his tunes, the album demonstrates he still had potential.

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Posted: Thursday 6th Dec 2018 9:45 AM

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album review
The Byrds - Byrds (1973)

This album isn't bad. Perhaps after all the punk and metal I've been stuffing my ears with lately, a little half-assed country/rock album from the five original members of The Byrds might be in line for some slight over-rating.

Byrds is an album for crackers, but that's okay. Considering I can count the worthwhile reunions of formerly great 60's bands on like, zero fingers, I can't help but be slightly encouraged that The Byrds decided to go ahead and get theirs out of the way early, back in the early-70's, when production gimmicks were still more-or-less palatable and no one yet owned an electronic drumkit.

And since in 1973 it was still pretty unfashionable to appear totally in it solely for the money, the band phone in their B-list material as opposed to say, the C-list material they'd have put out if this'd been done five or ten years later, when they were all burnt out worse than Crosby's 'base pipe.

Nah, nobody outside McGuinn contributes their best stuff to this one-off cash-in (and by 1973, McGuinn's best stuff was pretty second-rate anyway), which sounds like each member's solo material strained through the can't-miss CSN production filter.

Crosby is all amorphous and cantankerous distorto-folk on the ugly "Long Live the King", and amorphous and expansive psychedelic/folk on the fair "Laughing". Clark gets rootsy and genial on his 'way too similar to be coincidental' "Full Circle" and "Changing Heart", featuring a real-life 12-string Rickenbacker buried in the mix.

Hillman sounds West Coast slick on his country/rockers "Things Will Be Better" and "Borrowing Time", and McGuinn pretty much copies the same sorts of rambling confused songs that made Farther Along and Byrdmaniax such 'fun' as to completely forget.

Strangely enough, the best Byrd this time round is the one who was a member of the competition back in 1966 - Neil Young - who contributes a CSN-ified version of his classic "Cowgirl In the Sand", plus a thankfully rare "See the Sky About to Rain".

Since I've probably already spent more time discussing this album than The Byrds spent writing and recording it, I'll just say that Byrds - far from being an embarrassment to their careers - is actually better than the last few McGuinn LPs recorded under The Byrds' name.

So, if approached from 'boy isn't it nice they all got together and sang again' point-of-view, you'll probably think it's pleasant too. Just don't ask me anything about it next week, or you'll get a stare blanker than Paris Hilton's Particle Physics final. Some nice laid-back sounds result anyways.

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Posted: Thursday 13th Dec 2018 12:03 PM

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