Thursday, October 22, 2015


 "The fireside, the lamplight intimate and low, reverie with finger at the brow, and eyes that lose themselves in answering looks..." – Paul Verlaine, ‘La Bonne Chanson’

Born on February 19, 1940, William "Smokey" Robinson was blessed at birth with an extraordinary poetic vision:  God stepped down from His lofty perch and kissed the newborn's brow. 

Since then, Smokey – with a voice that can melt M&M's – has made us swoon, massaging our hearts with a romantic lyricism that justly earned him the title of World's Greatest Living Poet, awarded by both Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, prior to their current respective sainthoods.

From the Miracles' inception in the late '50s, Smokey swore that his music was inspired by the 12-year-old Frankie Lymon. Presently, because of his meticulous phrasing and air of self-confidence, he seems to be inspired by a more ancient deity, Frank Sinatra. 

During his waning years, Sinatra's voice mellowed, like a fine whiskey, into an authoritative perfection. Similarly, Smokey's voice now sails through a melody as if guided by the wisdom of a navigator so sure of his course that not even an approaching fog could dim his visibility.

Released on February 25, 1980, Warm Thoughts, Smokey's seventh solo album after he split from the Miracles in 1972, is the Motown Symbolist's most vital effort at keeping the embers of love burning since One Dozen Roses, his 1971 twilight masterpiece with the Miracles. 

On the album, his lyrics still rely upon the turned around phrase (‘Into Each Rain Some Life Must Fall’) – a sure sign of an intrinsic faith in language – but more than that, they reflect the poetic maturation of an artist no longer deceived by a mirage. Smokey has not only grown up, but his voice has changed, too.

His intertwining verse is still the stuff that romances are made of. Only a genuine madrigalist could have composed these lines from "Heavy On Pride (Light On Love)" -- 

So you say you stopped by
To make sure I watered creeping
And to use the phone
But that ain't so
Baby, cause I know
You well enough
To know that kind of stuff couldn't
bring you home

To comprehend the adulthood of Smokey's rhyme scheme is to understand why the soul of his ballads belongs to a heaven light years away from the sleazy pit where Barry White and Teddy Pendergrass croon in June about spoons.

The album, of course, is not without flaws, but they are tactical errors, due primarily to the presence of intruders. On "Wine, Women and Song," Smokey sings a duet with his wife, Claudette, that's only saved from the schmaltz of Peaches and Herb by the magical allure of Smokey's voice. Co-written and co-produced with Stevie Wonder, the Godfather of Plants, "Melody Man" never really rises above its pop-disco sound to give Smokey a chance to paint his words across the landscape.

Nevertheless, the erotically rhythmic moments of the album (the pendulum swing of "Let Me Be The Clock," the shame-shame-shame groove of "Heavy On Pride") offset any of its headaches. Already a well-established album in the R&B canon, Warm Thoughts -- its revealed intimacies perhaps even designed for our own bedrooms -- remains one of the great the make-out albums of the early '80s.

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