Enchantment - Utopia (Reissue) (2013)

Enchantment
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Though their time at the top of the R&B charts was relatively brief, the members of Enchantment have found their legend growing steadily in the years since their commercial peak, with a continuing outsized affection for a discography that consisted of only six albums. But Enchantment's place in music history was nowhere near as assured in 1983, when they issued their final major label album, Utopia. The quintet from Detroit had ridden to the top of the charts seven years earlier with two instant classics, "Sunshine" and "Gloria," and with solid production from veteran board man Michael Stokes, strong songwriting and one of the best falsetto leads in the business, Emanuel "EJ" Johnson, the future seemed dazzlingly bright. But in the early 80s the collapse of their label, Roadshow, along with an ill-fated move to RCA music's fledgling R&B division had removed virtually all momentum from their chart career.

Though their time at the top of the R&B charts was relatively brief, the members of Enchantment have found their legend growing steadily in the years since their commercial peak, with a continuing outsized affection for a discography that consisted of only six albums. But Enchantment's place in music history was nowhere near as assured in 1983, when they issued their final major label album, Utopia. The quintet from Detroit had ridden to the top of the charts seven years earlier with two instant classics, "Sunshine" and "Gloria," and with solid production from veteran board man Michael Stokes, strong songwriting and one of the best falsetto leads in the business, Emanuel "EJ" Johnson, the future seemed dazzlingly bright. But in the early 80s the collapse of their label, Roadshow, along with an ill-fated move to RCA music's fledgling R&B division had removed virtually all momentum from their chart career.

In 1982, Enchantment signed with Columbia Records for two albums, and, by the time of Utopia, the group decided to take a career gamble, moving from the traditional soulful lush arrangements of their early work to a decidedly hotter, more electronic sound, with a hope of influencing dance floors as much as car radios. The stakes became even bigger when they released the P-Funk influenced "Here's Your Chance" -- a rather generic cut that was virtually unidentifiable to any Enchantment fan -- as the album's lead single. That song's lack of performance, combined with Columbia's marketing focus on the near simultaneously released Thriller album by Michael Jackson, likely doomed Utopia's chance of major success; but what the public didn't know is that, behind the politics and some of the odd marketing decisions, lay one of the great R&B albums of that year.

Enchantment's six albums tended to rise or fall with the quality of the compositions, and Utopia was loaded with gems. The group's decision to adopt a more aggressive sound paid off on the dance cuts "Give It Up" and "Get It While It's Hot," songs that were more evolutionary than "Here's Your Chance" and that provided a nice spotlight on Johnson's empassioned vocals. Either could have been a worthy lead single for the album, and both still sound great three decades later.

Enchantment was known more for its ballads, and there were plenty of winners on Utopia. The charting single "Don't Fight The Feeling" sounded like the heir to the 1978 hit "It's You That I Need." And "I'm Dreaming" and "Gotta Find A Love" were prototypical Johnson compositions in both their romantic theme and their sweet resonance.  Best of all was "Love Struck," a contribution from legendary songwriters Sam Dees and Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey that may be among the finest songs ever recorded by the quintet.

Sadly, the early 80s were tough for traditional soul groups, and Utopia was Enchantment's swan song as a major recording act. But what a swan song. In an era when there were so many excellent albums that never received the shine they deserved, Utopia stands as one of the most underappreciated. Despite the prominence of a few out of place funk cuts on the album, those who dig a little deeper will find a treasure of classic soul sounds and attractive dance numbers, all clothed in the edgiest production ever used by the group.  Credit Big Break Records for deservingly pulling this disc out of the vaults and giving soul music fans another chance to discover its many charms. Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

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