Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Teena Marie

  • Lady T [Gordy, 1980] B
  • Irons in the Fire [Gordy, 1980] C+
  • It Must Be Magic [Gordy, 1981] A-
  • Starchild [Epic, 1984] B
  • Lovergirl: The Teena Marie Story [Epic/Legacy, 1997] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Lady T [Gordy, 1980]
This young white hope isn't breaking "r&b" because she sounds so "black"--she's not a whole heck of a lot funkier than the Doobie Brothers. She's breaking r&b because that's what Motown knows how to do. The hit, "Behind the Groove," is funky enough (the Doobies would give up golf for it), but then again, the more typical "You're All the Boogie I Need" is boogie enough. On the fast ones she sounds like Suzi Quatro blessed with a boyfriend smart enough to take it slow. On the slow ones she sounds dumb. B

Irons in the Fire [Gordy, 1980]
The self-production sounds more like license than liberation to me--she was better off with Richard Rudolph telling her what not to do. Maybe she could sing the telephone book and make me like it, but compared to the telephone book, "You make love like springtime and I can't control my passion/You make love like springtime even when love's not in fashion" lacks serendipity--especially after five minutes, with seasonal changes for variety and a jazzy 3:20 reprise for excess measure. C+

It Must Be Magic [Gordy, 1981]
I have my usual slow-fast problems with this pheenom, and I admit that all four (out of nine) slow ones give her overripeness time to turn. But no matter how rotten you think the liner poem is (and cf. Bob Dylan, etc.), you gotta dig that flowers-and-butterflies dress. It's her thing, you know? The fast ones are colorful and juicy, too--squooshy with funk slides and compulsive puns, so unguarded in their emotionality you'd fear for her sanity if she weren't so tough. And on one of the slow ones she quotes that liner poem and makes you like it. A-

Starchild [Epic, 1984]
Ballads aren't Teena's problem--self-expression is. Marvin and Aretha are so abundantly endowed they can afford to meander occasionally, but neither would dare stretch "Out on a Limb" to 6:38. Better Teena should make like Maya Angelou and design her slow ones for the page. On the other hand, Teena's fast ones need no apology, which she may finally have learned doesn't mean they need no hooks. And when she's riding a hit she can take Marvin and Aretha to the bank. B

Lovergirl: The Teena Marie Story [Epic/Legacy, 1997]
an original even on her endless ballads, conflating florid and soulful without ever sounding like the wannabe she is ("Ooo La La La," "Lovergirl") **