Barry White - The Collection
Before his death from kidney failure on July 4th 2003 aged 58, Barry White had just undergone something of a revival in his fortunes, due mainly to his appearances in Ally McBeal and that show's use of You're The First, The Last, My Everything. For an artist who began playing with big bands in the late-fifties, produced his first UK hit in 1967 and enjoyed considerable success throughout the seventies, such recent success seemed unlikely but, then again, how improbable it ever was that White, a man of imposing height and width, with less a voice capable of seduction than a bedside growl, would have been considered a sophisticated guru of love.
Taking a lead from established soul singers such as Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, Barry White built on the fluid, slippery, occasionally tense music recorded by his predecessors, which often included rich social commentary to offer instead a lushly orchestrated soundtrack to romance and, more accurately, lovemaking. However, instead of releasing a series of recordings that offered a grinding and humourless take on copulation, complete with a by-the-numbers progression to orgasm, White's music was the sound of a man grinning helplessly as he shimmied his considerable frame onto a chequered dance floor and accompanied unbelievably attractive women not only out of the discotheque but beneath the black satin sheets of his king-sized bed.
Opening with the light and Studio 54-kissed sound of You're The First, The Last, My Everything, this best-of collection kicks off in a confident and gloriously assured manner - those who fail to let their hips succumb to the bounce present in this track ought to seek medical assurances that they are indeed alive. When the spring in the opening bars of this song become lost in the swirls supplied by the Love Unlimited Orchestra and White's deep voice rouses itself, the sheer joy of this music shines through. Indeed, Barry White's lyrics are giddy with a desire for his partner, laying on one statement of unending devotion after another - imagine being the woman for whom this song was written! As White bellows, "You're all I'm living for; your love I'll keep forever more...You're the first, the last, my everything", lost in the sentiment, a few of love's secrets should be revealed even to those who have never known it.
After that, the album settles down into a run of tracks that are barely more than variations on its opening track. Following You See The Trouble With Me, which is a less well-known song, the album gets back onto familiar territory with Can't Get Enough Of Your Love and the slower, quite beautiful Just The Way You Are, complete with a line that sounds suspiciously like, "I don't want clever conversation...Don't want to work that hard, no lard"
Next up are two tracks by Love Unlimited, the female trio formed and produced by Barry White to fill the void left by the demise of The Supremes. The second of the two tracks - It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart It's Spring) is a chilly, spacious song that recalls a Spector-styled slice of pop from the sixties but the former is a wonderfully romantic song, complete with rain effects and a phone call from the lead singer of Love Unlimited (Glodean James) to her lover, which is made all the better when Barry White, James' real-life future husband, picks up the phone.
After a glorious instrumental by the Love Unlimited Orchestra (Love's Theme, naturally), written by Barry White but improved by the absence a vocal track, which gives the music more space than would otherwise be afforded to it, the album begins to run out of steam a little. Sho' You Right, whilst being markedly different to what surrounds it is still probably the least interesting original song here, losing the Love Unlimited Orchestra's trademark sound for a series of mid-eighties synthesiser gurgles, which is repeated on the later The Right Night, also from 1987, but otherwise, aside from Let The Music Play, many of the last seven songs simply fade into one another and are largely forgettable.
Unlike the scores of R&B-influenced ladies men, all of whom offer little more than promises to fulfil their woman's needs in as inoffensive and camp a manner as possible, appearing to be more interested in buffing their pecs in the gym than getting dirty between the sheets, Barry White was the real deal, gracefully perfecting the patter, the moves and the sounds of love whilst never appearing anywhere other than a deep-red, shag-piled bedroom. Whilst not as diverse as Marvin Gaye nor as able as Isaac Hayes, Barry White managed to mark his place in the world with a string of richly romantic and sexy songs, the best of which are presented here - not essential by any means but heartily recommended nonetheless.