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.
All the more reason, then, to welcome All The Time, released by UMe on 4 May as their first studio set in eight years. Sole surviving group founder Otis Williams is 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, in a 54-year span since their first Motown set Meet The Temptations, has no rivals. 43 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.
Since the new album was announced, admirers have 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 open the new release with Smith’s megahit ‘Stay With Me,’ there’s the notion of them reclaiming territory they helped discover.
They do so with an effectiveness that may surprise some, and when Williams starts Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with the exhortation: “C’mon Temptations, let’s sing this song,” it previews 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 lends it the rich five-piece harmonies that decorate the whole album, with the addition of wailing rock guitar that recalls 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, is another strong group performance, with added saxophone instrumentation.
There are 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 — are every bit as richly romantic as the group’s heritage demands. The closing ‘Move Them Britches’ has them throwing down with admirable funkiness.
By then, they’ve 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, is of John Mayer’s ‘Still Feel Like Your Man,’ which opened his spring 2017 album The Search Of Everything. Producer-arranger Dave Darling helps bring out the song’s innate soulfulness in a striking piece of recasting, as it does 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 their longtime designation as the Emperors of Soul feels as appropriate as ever. As the very last words of the album reassert: “Temptations sing!”
Purchase All The Time here.
Follow the official Temptations Best Of playlist.