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Legally Yours

An overlooked soul masterpiece, wrought in relationship hell

****

MARVIN GAYE
Hear, My Dear: Expanded Edition
Hip-O Select

Few albums have a juicier back­story than Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear--maybe none. An ex-drummer who put aside his dreams of cocktail crooning and applied his willowy baritone to some of the most delicately turned and rhythmically complex smashes of the soul era, Gaye broke free of Motown formula mid-career, politically with 1971's What's Going On and sexually with 1973's Let's Get It On. But his life was a mess, and so this special double-LP was conceived by a judge and Gaye's divorce lawyer; the advance and presumed royalties were the only way Marvin could fund an exit from his ruined marriage to Anna Gordy, the sister of Motown headman Berry Gordy and Gaye's serial cheatee since 1964. The singer intended to meet his obligation with hackwork--but then, as was his wont, became obsessed. Pop is full of records about love gone sour. How many include lines like "Somebody tell me please, tell me please/Why do I have to pay attorney fees?"

So, we get bizarre, naked lyrics. Some were meant to sadden or enrage Anna: the title song, with its "You don't have the right to use a son of mine/To keep me in line," or such self-explanatory coups de pointe as "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" and "Anger." But others--the equally self-explanatory "I Met a Little Girl," or "Anna's Song," with its milk bath and kids laughing in the snow--warmly honor his wife and the love they'd shared. The long, loopy "A Funky Space Reincarnation," in which Marvin and Anna seem destined or doomed to mate forever, combines the two moods.

Released with minimal label support in 1978, at the height of disco madness, Here, My Dear tanked. Yet because it was conceived beginning-to-end both musically and emotionally, it actually contains less filler than the more hallowed What's Going On and Let's Get It On. The singing never approaches the hard-earned muscularity of Gaye hits from "Can I Get a Witness" to "Sexual Healing," and there's not a surefire single anywhere. But encountered today, these peculiarities aren't flaws; Gaye's vocals are unerringly subtle and supple, intricate polyrhythms carry the talkiest melodies and at least half the songs are catchy and moving. The six-minute "When Did You Stop Loving Me" is almost as eloquent for what it is as "Inner City Blues," "A Funky Space Reincarnation" almost as groove-alicious as "Got to Give It Up."

When reissue producer Harry Weinger calls Here, My Dear an "overlooked masterpiece," he's not bullshitting--this is Gaye's most playable album. Even the bonus disc's new remixes have some jam; they help to prove that Marvin Gaye was the rare overextended romantic wreck who could make something of his failures. Somewhere out there is a divorce lawyer who did the world a solid.

Blender, Mar. 2008