Monday, April 21, 2008

No. 462: Here, My Dear

Band: Marvin Gaye
Album: Here, My Dear
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Despite being hated at the time, Marvin Gaye's album based on breakups (specifically his divorce) is mean, but great. It's been sampled a million times and rightfully so.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: As double albums go, this is one of the best, but it remains a double album. It has some filler and the topic (Gaye's ex-wife) gets a little old.
Best song: The title track is great and "Anna" is wonderful.
Worst song: "Somebody Needs Love" is boring.
Is it awesome?: Sure.

Marvin Gaye and Anna Gordy -- Berry Gordy's sister -- split in 1976. The divorce was quite acrimonious and resulted in a negotiation for Gaye to give half of the royalties from his next album to Anna. Gaye, in interviews, suggested he had two options. The first was to make what he called "a lazy album." The other -- the path he eventually chose -- was to make an album largely about the divorce.

THe result is as pretty as anything Gaye ever put out, but lyrically as vitriolic as ever. "Here, My Dear" is to be read sarcastically, as someone handing over a piece of themselves. Here, he says. "Take this. The double album is a point in time; it's Gaye at his most exhausted while still energetic. Angry, but still soulful, Gaye's pain makes for a great record.

"Anger" is funky and fun, but the lyrics speak of a different Gaye. Sounding something like a Sly Stone record on quaaludes, the track's famous line (Someday soon I'll hope and pray like Jesus/I'll reach that wiser age/hope I will learn I never profit from things I do in rage) speaks volumes about Gaye's state in 1978.

Gaye's voice is such that he can sing just about anything and sound great. The album opener, the title track, is more narrative in its tone -- speaking of Anna using their adopted son against Gaye -- while still angry. "Anna" is sometimes repetitive, but always compelling, as Gaye sings "What's it, husband, makes you so stubborn?" "Sparrow" is similarly harsh, but sonically more of a soul song, with a gorgeous sax line.

While Anna was topic A on the record, her brother did not escape without harm. Gaye's line about Barry Gordy, "you know you had a brother who thought he was cool/when really I was a dumb little fool," is a solid put-down and works well with the "Is That Enough."

(Say it with me...) As with all double albums, "Here, My Dear" has its share of filler. The lore says that the final two minutes of "Is That Enough" is simply Gaye going off to smoke a joint and have the sax player solo for a bit. "Somebody Needs Love" largely apes the guitar riff from "Let's Get It On." "Time to Get it Together" is full of cool harmonies, but ultimately shallow. "A Funky Space Reincarnation" is a mediocre attempt a Parliament-style bassline.

"Here, My Dear," like many great breakup albums, is often an exercise in overkill. The theme of divorce and bitterness is slightly overdone, but Gaye's voice makes up for it in spades.

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