The opportunity to experience the phenomenon of the Temptations as a live force is still, happily, available to us thanks to the tireless touring schedule of the modern-day line-up. But it’s become quite a rare event to welcome a new album bearing the name of the truly legendary Motown institution.
There was all the more reason, then, to welcome All The Time, released by UMe on 4 May 2018 as their first studio set in eight years. Sole surviving group founder Otis Williams was joined on the album by groupmates Ron Tyson, Terry Weeks, Larry Braggs and Willie Greene.
In the soul arena, a tally of 16 No. 1s among their LP catalogue since their first Motown set Meet The Temptations, has no rivals. Forty-three top ten R&B hits helped inspire four Grammys, among them Motown’s first-ever, with ‘Cloud Nine.’ Four No. 1 US pop hits tell of their immense crossover appeal. All of those achievements speak volumes, but the very idea that the group were moved to add a new chapter to their recorded legacy is inspiring in itself.
After the new album was announced, admirers had time to adjust to the notion of the group covering modern songs from not just the R&B world, but pop too. The Tempts singing Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith? It’s less of a leap than it may appear. One can cite the later 1960s group’s interpretations of pop songwriters such as Bacharach & David on ‘This Guy’s In Love With You,’ from Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations, or Goffin & King’s ‘Hey Girl’ on Cloud Nine.
Besides, artists of every vernacular can’t fail to have been influenced, consciously or otherwise, by the Tempts’ prototype soulfulness and intuitive vocal interplay. So when the group opened the new release with Smith’s megahit ‘Stay With Me,’ there was the notion of them reclaiming territory they helped discover.
They did so with an effectiveness that may have surprised some. When Williams started Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with the exhortation: “C’mon Temptations, let’s sing this song,” it previewed another committed remake. However big the original, when the Temptations cover a song, it stays covered.
Their reading of the Weeknd’s Fifty Shades Of Grey hit ‘Earned It’ also gave it the rich five-piece harmonies that decorate the whole album. The addition of wailing rock guitar recalled a previous marriage of two genres perfected by Ernie Isley, on the Isley Brothers’ early ’70s sides. Maxwell’s ‘Pretty Wings,’ knowingly plucked from his 2009 set BLACKSummer’s Night, was another strong group performance, with added saxophone instrumentation.
There were three new compositions among the ten-song mix (augmented by two remixes), all of which add body to the album’s flavours. ‘Waitin’ On You’ and ‘Be My Wife’ — the latter decidedly not a cover of David Bowie‘s Low track — were every bit as richly romantic as the group’s heritage demands. The closing ‘Move Them Britches’ had them throwing down with admirable funkiness.
From Michael Jackson to John Mayer
By then, they’d also visited the catalogue of their one-time Motown labelmate Michael Jackson, to put their moves on his Dangerous hit ‘Remember The Time.’ Perhaps the most imaginative selection, and most contemporary, was of John Mayer’s ‘Still Feel Like Your Man,’ which opened his spring 2017 album The Search Of Everything. Producer-arranger Dave Darling helped bring out the song’s innate soulfulness in a striking piece of recasting, as it did on a natural bedfellow in Bruno Mars’ ‘When I Was Your Man.’
The Temptations have achieved everything it’s possible to aspire to in a distinguished lifetime, but here their longtime designation as the Emperors of Soul felt as appropriate as ever. As the very last words of the album reassert: “Temptations sing!”
All The Time can be bought here.
Follow the official Temptations Best Of playlist.