Crisp, clever, soulful and emotionally literate works of genius.
Pete Marsh 2009
If Stevie Wonder was Motown’s visionary and Marvin Gaye its troubled genius, then Smokey Robinson was its heart. He provided the label with over 40 hits –as a member of the Miracles, a solo artist and writer for others – and spent the best part of 30 years helping run the label. He even named his daughter Tamla.
Though feted by The Beatles and, most famously, Bob Dylan (who described him as “America’s greatest living poet”), Robinson’s career never produced a ‘classic’ album along the lines of What’s Goin’ On or Innervisions (though 1975’s Quiet Storm comes close). Instead, Smokey was all about The Single.
And we get a lot of those singles here, though kicking off any album that calls itself The Definitive Collection with two previously unreleased tracks is asking for trouble. Not that there’s anything much wrong with these – in fact they’re a lot more palatable to these ears than a lot of Robinson’s 80s efforts – but what they’re doing here is anyone’s guess, particularly when they’re nestling up to some of the greatest pop music ever recorded.
No matter how many times they’ve been reissued, recycled or mauled by X-Factor hopefuls, songs like Tears of a Clown, Tracks of My Tears, or I Second That Emotion (to name but three) are crisp, clever, soulful and emotionally literate works of genius. Fact. Bob wasn’t wrong about Smokey. And there are more than a few gems among Robinson’s post-Miracles 70s output included here: Baby Come Close is the equal of any Marvin Gaye smoocher. Baby That’s Backatcha (from Quiet Storm) is as infectiously and breezily soulful as anything from Curtis Mayfield, or the Isleys, or Al Green. It’s a period of Robinson’s career that’s ripe for reappraisal.
The rest of the compilation covers the 80s and Smokey’s resurgence on both sides of the Atlantic. At this point some will be itching to slink off and listen to Quiet Storm instead, but as they say: your mileage may vary. But if you’re looking for an album that contains some of the greatest pop music ever recorded and might just lead you to a few hidden gems, you could do a lot worse than this one.