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BBC – Music – Review of Luther Vandross

Written by on October 16, 2020

Luther Vandross’ third album Busy Body is the apex of his collaboration with producer and bassist Marcus Miller, and it positively leaps out of the speakers with the synthetic stabs of opener I Wanted Your Love.

One of his best dancefloor numbers, it is probably the only example in Vandross’ solo catalogue of him sounding at the cutting edge, with its New York club swagger.

I Wanted Your Love was one of the first Vandross singles to receive a proper contemporaneous release in the UK, and it trailed an album that caught him on the cusp of superstardom.

Busy Body contained three superb, snappy, astute up-tempo observations on love; aside from I Wanted Your Love, I’ll Let You Slide and For the Sweetness of Your Love both continued this choppy, urban groove.

But for many, Busy Body was all about the four remaining ballads. The title track continues the lyrical obsession that courses through all of Vandross’ work: lost or unrequited romance.

Although the duet with Dionne Warwick, How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, verges on the formulaic, his version of Superstar, featuring sections of Aretha Franklin’s take on Until You Come Back to Me, is one of his greatest moments.

Although Cher, Bette Midler and The Carpenters had all covered Superstar with great success, Vandross sings it as if he is on the verge of breaking into tears – it is one of the most soulful performances he ever delivered.

His biographer Craig Seymour noted that he turned the song of a groupie longing for her idol into “a near universal plea, applicable to anyone who has ever been wilfully abandoned or carelessly left behind”.

No mainstream soul performer captured longing and regret as well as Vandross. Wrapped in their lush productions, many missed the pathos at the heart of his work.

Although not as accomplished as its successor, The Night I Fell In Love, Busy Body was one of only four albums that sold over a million by African-American artists in the US in 1983 – Prince, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie released the others – and it demonstrates more than ever how Vandross deserved his place among those megastars.

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