My rating for What's Going On
is a really high 5 stars, but there are nevertheless a few flaws to this acknowledged classic that nobody ever seems to mention.
For one, it all sounds the same ... ambient soul/funk, lyrically focused on saving the world, and - in particular - the urban black community. Which is nice, but both the music and lyrics get seriously strained on tracks like "Save the Children", which literally consists of Gaye speaking and then singing lines about um, saving the children; and pretty tracks like "Flying High (In the Friendly Sky)" and "What's Happening Brother" start to run into each other after a while.
It's obvious that Gaye ran out of songwriting steam after co-penning the album's three absolute classics. Still, those classics are as good as anything 70's R&B ever produced - the title track may be the best song of all time - a soulful yearning cry for peace and love with a smooth urgent vocal from Gaye and a lovely melody.
"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" is a stirring tale of pollution and decay around the world with a breathtaking orchestral coda; and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" has a truly scary soft-funk arrangement that really makes me feel the urban experience more than anything I've heard.
Besides those three songs though, only "Right On" with its funky percussion and airy flute, makes a real impression as an individual song - otherwise, it's hard to pay attention throughout the whole album. Still, it's all gorgeous, with intricate arrangements by Dave Van De Pitte, and James Jamerson kicks butt on bass throughout (except for a solid performance from Bob Babbit on "Inner City Blues"); and Gaye's voice is absolutely amazing - smooth, airy, and tender, with beautiful layered harmonies that betray a real love for his work. Plus, it all changed the world or something.
I'd almost recommend getting the three big songs on a hits collection rather than buy this, but the album does
work as a thematic whole, and it is very enjoyable - just inconsistent in parts.Rated:
by Reviewer: Cosmic Ben
(blogging at Cosmic Ben [Defunct]