Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surprisingly Lackluster, I'm In Love Has Wilson Pickett Screaming, But Not Producing Hits.

The Good: Moments of fun instrumental accompaniment, Moments of vocally interesting presentation
The Bad: Nothing pops, Short, Very generic R&B sound, Not terribly creative or interesting.
The Basics: Despite the amusing inclusion of an engineer talking to Wilson Pickett on the recording of “Let It Come Naturally,” I’m In Love is a dud by Pickett.

When it comes to older albums, I tend to go more leniently on the supposed greats because they were pioneering the field, as opposed to simply following in the footsteps of others. But as I make my way through the works of Wilson Pickett, it is hard to not acknowledge that even he had some early duds. By the time his album I’m In Love came out, he was a superstar in the rhythm and blues genre and he had several albums on the market. As a result, Pickett and his producers knew exactly what had come before in his career and it is a bad sign that by this album he was already sounding familiar and repetitive.

Indeed, when I picked up I’m In Love, I was actually excited because I had only heard a single song on I’m In Love. As well, the compact disc version of I’m In Love at least made an attempt at increasing the value of the transfer by adding additional tracks to the original album. As a result, listeners get thirteen songs, as opposed to the original ten. Of course, two of those songs are just alternate takes of songs that appear earlier on the album. Still, it is hard to complain that Atlantic didn’t make an effort when remastering the album. Rather interestingly, the stereo masters for I’m In Love could not be located, so the c.d. is pressed in mono format. This, too, is not as much of a problem as the fact that the album is dull and indistinct track to track.

With thirteen songs occupying only thirty-eight minutes on compact disc, I’m In Love is still a dreadfully short use of the c.d. medium. Still, this album features some of Wilson Pickett’s own work, even if he is only credited with co-writing a single track. He also provides the lead vocals on each and every song. Pickett was not involved in the production of the album, nor did he play any of the musical instruments which accompany his vocals on I’m In Love. Still, by this point in his career, it seems like he had some influence over his own musical sound.

Vocally, this is very much a Wilson Pickett album. Pickett shouts, screeches sings soulfully through the album. On songs like “I’ve Come a Long Way,” he does little more than holler, as he does at points on “Jealous Love.” But on “That Kind Of Love” and “Hello Sunshine,” he is actually melodic, losing the roughness to his vocals which characterize many of his tracks. This album does not feature the most clear vocals from Pickett either and he slurs through some of the lyrics on “Jealous Love.” Moreover, there is nothing truly funky, universal or even auditorily compelling or interesting in his vocal performances on I’m In Love. The result is an album that drags and replays poorly over multiple listens.

The instrumental accompaniment on I’m In Love is also disappointingly bland. In fact, the word “mundane” kept popping into my head when I would consider this album. This is the most generic form of R&B when it comes to the instrumental accompaniment. The bass, trumpets and guitars flow in the most predictable ways possible. In fact, when it is not predictable, the percussion and brass becomes noisy and sloppy-sounding, as they do on “Stagger Lee” at various points. In fact, after a dozen listens, none of the tunes actually resonate enough to be considered memorable on this album. The reason I had not heard much from this album before listening to it is that this album doesn’t have much interesting to it.

As for the lyrics, here I’m In Love is problematic at best as well. The most memorable song, lyrically, is “Stagger Lee.” Sadly, this does not make it a wonderful song by any stretch of the imagination. While most of the songs are blandly singing about love, lust and desire, “Stagger Lee” is a musical storysong which is surprisingly violent. Pickett sings “I was standing on the corner when I heard my bulldog bark / He was barkin' at the two men who were gamblin' in the dark / It was Stagger Lee and Billy, two men who gambled late / Stagger Lee threw seven, Billy swore that he threw eight / Stagger Lee told Billy, ‘I can't let you go with that’ . . . Stagger Lee went home and he got his forty-four / Said ‘I'm goin' to the barroom just to pay that debt I owe’ / Stagger Lee went to the barroom and he stood across the barroom door / He said ‘Nobody move’ and he pulled his forty-four / Stagger Lee shot Billy, oh he shot that poor boy so bad“ (“Stagger Lee”) and it is an embodiment of much of what people fear about city life and the ghettos.

“Stagger Lee,” however, is not indicative of the rest of the album. Pickett smoothly covers the Sam Cooke song “Bring It Home To Me” and that sounds good. But songs like “She’s Lookin’ Good” with its lines like “When you wear your wigs, baby / You wear your dresses tight / You wear your foxy fur, baby / When you step out late at night, hey“ get very repetitive and hold up poorly over multiple listens. In fact, Pickett breaking up the singsong rhymes with his shouts and excited utterances only seems to accent them on songs like “She’s Lookin’ Good.”

Ultimately, I’m In Love is indistinct and none of the songs stand out. It is short, so it replays poorly and it is easy to pass it by because Pickett’s talent is not evident on much of it. It is noisy and disappointing for far too much of the album.

For other works by Wilson Pickett, please check out my reviews of:
In Philadelphia
The Very Best Of Wilson Pickett
It's Harder Now


For other album and singles reviews, please be sure to visit my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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