The Commodores

The Ultimate Collection (Motown ’97) Rating: A-
Whether you think the bulk of his material is “corny” or “heartfelt,” few would disclaim Lionel Richie’s knack as a premier pop songwriter. This is the band with whom he first grew as a performer, and in my opinion this versatile funk/pop combo produced most of his best songs. And he had plenty of help, since he didn’t write or sing some of their finest material, such as the funky synths/drums-driven instrumental “Machine Gun,” the uplifting, discofied “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” (OK, Richie does sing this one but it’s the harmonized chorus that makes the song move), and “Brick House,” a classic funk stomper that all but screams “party time!” The Commodores generally delivered energetic, horn-driven funk workouts or classy, string-drenched ballads primarily penned by Richie, and this chronologically sequenced compilation (which covers 1974 through 1986) captures the best of both sides of what was first and foremost a strong singles act. The Ultimate Collection includes timeless ballads such as the smoothly swaying “Easy” (love those “aah” backing vocals; the song was later recorded by Faith No More), "Sail On," and “Sweet Love,” and though songs such as “Three Times A Lady” and “Still” are overly long, sentimental, and syrupy, these pretty ballads sure are melodic and singable. Room is also made for sweat soaked funk tracks such as “Slippery When Wet,” “Fancy Dancer,” and “Too Hot Ta Trot,” all of which offer nothing especially deep but which are tons of fun nevertheless, though more generic fare such as “Girl, I Think The World About You” and “Zoom” are pleasant enough but not nearly as memorable. Finally, we get treated to the group's lone post-Richie moment, the wonderfully melodic “Nightshift,” a great last gasp that delivers a touching tribute to a couple of dearly departed soul greats, Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson (I'd rank this song as the band's best along with "Easy" and "Brick House"). This is exactly what single cd compilations are supposed to do, giving great consumer value at 75 minutes and including informative liner notes, all the while presenting a fine second tier band with most of their first rate moments.

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