January 19, 2004

Marvin Gaye "I Want You" (Expanded Edition)

I've always had a little bit of envy of music writers of the past. I just wonder how wonderful it was to have a Pet Sounds or a Blonde on Blonde or a Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols record to review. I always wonder how some records were misaligned at the time, hated by critics yet eventually realized to be classics--what were these reviewers thinking at the time? Were they on dope? Cough syrup? Stupid pills? I've always wanted to review so many classic albums, but there's no real market for reviewing the oldies of the past, especially when I've got a whole box full of tomorrow's classics waiting for review today. When a reissue series like The Delxue Edition appears, it makes my day--because it gives me an opportunity to talk about really great music.

It goes without saying that Marvin Gaye's album, I Want You is a classic. With it, he achieved what so many artists have failed to do: a sound change. While his music had always been a mixture of deep R&B and soul, with I Want You he incorporated the then-popular disco style into his music. Throw in the fact that he had fallen in love, his new style reflected both the romance in his life and the changing sound of music. His incorporation of pop, disco and R&B rhythms is a very subtle one; he obviously had the sense to realize that making a record that was heavily indebted to popular styles was unwise. Indeed, I Want You sounds remarkably like a slow-dance on a Saturday night--and the hours afterwards in the bedroom.

Though I Want You only produced one true 'hit,' and commercially speaking it did not do as well as the previous hit albums of the early 70s, Let's Get It On and What's Going On (both also available in this reissue series), I Want You is perhaps the most cohesive of the three. In fact, it is indeed perhaps R&B's greatest concept album, in spite of the fact that there is no overt 'concept,' other than the fact that 'The Dance' is seen as an act of foreplay. Indeed, all of the songs are quite romantic; several of them are quite erotic, and one or two are simply too risque to reprint here. If his intention was to make a symphony to lovemaking, he succeeded; not since Bolero has such a composition been so passionate, so moving, so erotic.

The device that makes I Want You so cohesive could easily be seen as its biggest weakness: repetition. "I Want You" appears three times; once as a full song, twice as segues throughout the album; "After The Dance" appears twice, both in instrumental and a vocal, and it also is the basis for the brief hidden track, "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and the rhythm and melody of both songs runs through the rest of the songs. Had Gaye not already proven himself time and time again, such a move might easily be viewed as the results of an artist who was not particularly inspired, or that it was simply an album that was pieced together from outtakes. But because of his deft production, I Want You never sounds like it actually is--an album based around two or three core musical ideas.

In an unusual twist, the compact disc format actually enhances the already-brilliant album in that it finally presents it in a continuous-flow. When played straight from beginning to end, I Want You--which is a rather short album, running less than forty minutes--is a smooth, sensual symphony dedicated to out-and-out lovemaking. (Three bonus songs, a single mix and an instrumental mix of "I Want You" and an instrumental version of "Feel All My Love Inside" (titled "Strange Love) are tacked to the end of the first disk, and surprisingly, they aren't repetitive; in fact, they enhance the first album quite nicely.)

The second disk, however, is both a revelation and a confirmation. While these outtakes merely present I Want You again, in alternate-take form, they do help highlight the creative process that resulted in such a masterpiece. The vocal overdub sessions for "I Want You" makes an already-erotic song even more seductive; "I Wanna Be Where You Are," his loving shout-out to his wife and children, is presented in full, six minute instrumental jam form, and it appears again as part of an early version of "After The Dance," which highlights how Gaye had intended to make the album a seamless record from start to finish. Though there are not many truly unreleased songs from I Want You, one true outtake appears here, "Is Anybody Thinking About Their Living?" This song is primarily an instrumental session which Gaye played around with. Though interesting, it's not really essential to the rest of the I Want You set.

I Want You is a neglected classic, and this expanded edition certainly proves that it should receive as much respect as What's Going On and Let's Get It On. Though others might disagree with me, I would even say that this record is Gaye's true masterpiece. A beautiful, astonishing work of art, I Want You is one of the few records to truly capture the passion and joy of seduction, lovemaking and The Dance we call 'life.'

--Joseph Kyle

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