An accomplished album rising far above its 80s production values.
Daryl Easlea 2012-07-10
There is a general rule of thumb for all soul albums released between 1984 and 1988: approach with caution, as producers of the time flocked to the latest technology in their droves. But for all those who marshalled it well, such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, there were plenty who didn’t, and the charts became full of identikit recordings.
Fortunately, the exemplary, classically-trained Patrice Rushen was able to rise above this. On her eighth album, Now, the feeling is that she is totally in control of the then-current studio trickery.
Coming after her 1982 commercial peak, Straight from the Heart, she reassembled several of that album’s key players, notably co-producer Charles Mims Jr and bassist Freddie Washington. Now is as sweet as soul got in 1984.
Heartache Heartbreak is a prime example of this, and the beautiful pop-ballad High In Me, with its shifting chords, is reminiscent of Rose Royce’s masterwork Wishing on a Star. Lead single Feels So Real (Won’t Let Go) felt as if it reached much higher than its lowly 51 UK chart placing in June 1984. That said, it was far more sophisticated than other big R&B hits of the moment.
The tender vulnerability of Rushen’s voice adds a touch of class, even on the throbbing synthesizer chug of Gone With the Night and Superstar, two songs that should have been on the soundtrack to an Eddie Murphy movie. Perfect Love is superb minimalism based around Washington’s popping bassline, sounding not unlike what Green Gartside was attempting to achieve when he relocated Scritti Politti out of north London to New York.
In her later life, Rushen was Janet Jackson’s musical director, and you can hear the parallels between the artists, as Gotta Find It sounds like a template for Jackson’s more beautiful pop ballads. Today, she’s still much in demand, arranging and producing, and is a professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
Now, full of beautiful, radio-friendly urban sounds, is one of the reasons for Rushen’s longevity. It demonstrates how far she had travelled since her Prestige debut, Prelusion, a decade earlier.