Marvin Gaye - You're The Man (2019)

Marvin Gaye
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Marvin Gaye – You’re The Man

The wah-wah guitars, the multi-voiced singing in harmony and counterpoint with himself, the drum tight rhythm section, the socially conscious lyrics. Yes, it’s Marvin Gaye alright. Gaye at his peak powers in a collage of songs that feels less peak perfection and, at times, more haphazardly compiled. Still, despite the release’s glaring lack of cohesion, it’s great to again hear those layered mellifluous dulcet tones against strings, strolling basslines, and sweeping symphonic orchestrations. You’re The Man is an unexpected gift one is grateful to receive even if you’re not entirely sure what to make of its shimmering ornamentations.

Marvin Gaye – You’re The Man

The wah-wah guitars, the multi-voiced singing in harmony and counterpoint with himself, the drum tight rhythm section, the socially conscious lyrics. Yes, it’s Marvin Gaye alright. Gaye at his peak powers in a collage of songs that feels less peak perfection and, at times, more haphazardly compiled. Still, despite the release’s glaring lack of cohesion, it’s great to again hear those layered mellifluous dulcet tones against strings, strolling basslines, and sweeping symphonic orchestrations. You’re The Man is an unexpected gift one is grateful to receive even if you’re not entirely sure what to make of its shimmering ornamentations.

As with any compilation being sold as a “lost album,” there are stellar gems that have shockingly sat for so long in “vaults” instead of being enjoyed by the world. Most of the best tracks are front loaded in the sequencing, as is the case with the title track and its “Trouble Man” feeling follow-up, “The World is Rated X.” However, some of these tracks you’ve heard before, such as the single and often licensed “Piece of Clay,” easily one of the most resonating and enduring ballads in the whole of Marvin Gaye’s catalog. Some, as in the case of “My Last Chance,” we’ve heard done better by the master himself. When you hear a featherlight smile like “Where Are We Going – Alternative Mix 2” and the Spinners-flavored doo wop brightness of “I’m Gonna Give You Respect,” the delights are plentiful enough to make You’re The Man a find worth treasuring, especially if you are not someone who went back to purchase all of the repackaged “Deluxe Editions” or box sets of classic Marvin Gaye albums in the late ‘90s and early aughts that shared a few of these tracks in various iterations before.

One can’t help but question the need for project producer Salaam Remi to try his hand at modernizing or “improving” upon “My Last Chance,” “I’d Give My Life for You” and “Symphony” with versions that lack the organic warmth and some of the exquisite live instrumentation of their originals. On “Symphony” in particular, it’s the smoothness of Gaye’s instrument that is the star player, diminishing all other efforts to “funk up” the innate rhapsodic sweep of one of the compilation’s best tunes. Luckily, Remi had a lighter touch on “My Last Chance,” keeping all of its lushly romantic I Want You period feels intact.

Throughout this posthumous collection, the ease and purity of Gaye’s voice is ever present. Usually, his elastic vocals are elevating material that sometimes feel heavier on the B-side filler -- especially once you get past the first 12 tracks. At times, even his gifts can’t save the weakest of the compositions. You’re The Man offers a case study for editing; to have a near-perfect 12 is better than a faltering 17 tracks that unravel any chance at the project’s elusive cohesion. For instance, Gaye on “I’m Going Home” sounds positively bored as he goes through the motions of its rote ‘70s funk. So much so, you question if the recording was meant to be a demo or reference track to come back to later and beef up. “Checking Out (Double Clutch)” and “Christmas in the City” will delight the late ‘60s funk enthusiasts who covet Northern Soul and the Stax instrumental recordings, but they doesn’t rescue them from being anything but a throwaway of the day. At least one other song is also a Christmas cut, though more of bite and longing than of celebratory cheer, and neither memorable enough to warrant their presence beyond their time capsule demonstrations.

While it’s being sold as Marvin in between the most complete political album soul music has ever produced in What’s Going On and Marvin before he went full sexual lothario in Let’s Get It On, a handful of cuts were recorded in 1969, before the 1970 recordings of What’s Going On, which begs the question were some of these not considered good enough for that project. “Woman of the The World” certainly could have slid into any of Gaye’s early ‘70s era consciousness raising projects with ease, though some may find its conflicted message more bittersweet in its mocking observations than cleanly affirming of the feminist women of the day, despite the sunshine chorus of “You’ve come a long way, baby.” At least a full album worth of material here is good enough thanks to a fully powered Gaye and collaborators like Hal Davis, Willie Hutch, Fonce Mizzell, Gene Page, and Gloria Jones, among others. All ‘n’ all, You’re The Man proves Gaye in his prime could be little else.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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