Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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DeBarge

  • All This Love [Gordy, 1982] B+
  • In a Special Way [Gordy, 1983] A+
  • Rhythm of the Night [Gordy, 1985] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

All This Love [Gordy, 1982]
They came from nowhere with an airy debut that never touched ground or stopped coming, and nowhere is where it went. So this time they go against their own best instincts, bearing down on individual compositions rather than immersing themselves in sound. When they hit one--slow stuff like "All This Love" and "I Like It" is why the Lord blessed them--you can hear it breaking through and crossing over, always the Motown ideal. When they don't, all you hear is exquisitely cautious product. B+

In a Special Way [Gordy, 1983]
When first I fell in love with the austere lilt and falsetto fantasy they've pinned to plastic here, I thought it was just that I'd finally outgrown the high-energy fixation that's always blocked my emotional access to falsetto ballads. So I went back to Spinners and Blue Magic, Philip Bailey and my man Russell Thompkins Jr., and indeed, they all struck a little deeper--but only, I soon realized, because the superior skill of these kids had opened me up. I know of no pop music more shameless in its pursuit of pure beauty--not emotional (much less intellectual) expression, just voices joining for their own sweet sake, with the subtle Latinized rhythms (like the close harmonies themselves) working to soften odd melodic shapes and strengthen the music's weave. High energy doesn't always manifest itself as speed and volume--sometimes it gets winnowed down to its essence. A+

Rhythm of the Night [Gordy, 1985]
Eldra DeBarge's genius isn't especially with-it--uptempo arrangements do nothing for his outstretched melodies and chilly harmonies. But he and his countless siblings scored one hit after another off In a Special Way, which led to a traumatic tour with the unsinkable Luther Vandross when Eldra might have been working up new product. Hence this mishmash--a Richard Perry-produced soundtrack one-off, a Giorgio Moroder-produced soundtrack one-off, a 1981 ballad featuring Eldra and sister Bunny in their classic falsetto mode, four standard medium-fasts from C-list funk-popper Jay Graydon, and two uptempo numbers from Eldra, who seems to be getting a handle on the stuff. Pray the paranoia underlying his all-too-interesting "The Walls (Come Tumbling Down)" dissipates when he settles into the studio again. B+