Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Lionel Richie

  • Lionel Richie [Motown, 1982] C+
  • Can't Slow Down [Motown, 1983] B+
  • Dancing on the Ceiling [Motown, 1986] B+
  • Louder Than Words [Mercury, 1996] Neither

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Lionel Richie [Motown, 1982]
At least Jeffrey Osborne wants to sing like Peabo Bryson or somebody; no sooner does Richie split off from his unnecessarily successful funk group than he starts making like Andy Williams. Not that this comes as a surprise to those who know the funk group. But there are better ways to integrate this great nation of ours. C+

Can't Slow Down [Motown, 1983]
Given Richie's well-established appeal to white people, this surprisingly solid album bids fair to turn into a mini-Thriller, and good for him--it's a real advance. In the years since he became a ballad writer he's learned how to sing them--"Hello" is nowhere near as magical a song as "Easy," but the grain of Richie's delivery gives you something to sink your ears into. And where the Commodores' funk often sounded a little forced, his jumpy international dance-pop comes to him naturally even when he's putting on that stupid West Indian accent. B+

Dancing on the Ceiling [Motown, 1986]
Though it's customary to situate Richie square in the middle of the pop mainstream, in fact he's more austere than that, and more distinctive--his placidity and simplicity yield a lulling, almost mantralike entertainment that recalls Sade or J.J. Cale. Granted, his clichéd verse isn't always as transparent as he hopes--mawk like "Ballerina Girl" is all too noticeable. And sometimes he doesn't put his heart into the semi-fast ones. But he compensates with a knack for tune that puts him over the fine line between lulling and boring--a knack that Sade or Cale would go metal for. B+

Louder Than Words [Mercury, 1996] Neither

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]