Baroque love music from the last of the original Isleys.
Daryl Easlea 2010
By the time of 1982's The Real Deal, The Isley Brothers had seemingly run out of ideas. They’d enjoyed 10 years at the forefront of the US R&B scene since the original trio (Rudolph, Ronald and O’Kelly) had been augmented by younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and cousin Chris Jasper, creating their scorching rock-soul hybrid. However, the funk of The Real Deal seemed a little laboured.
The group was to reassert their authority with their 1983 album, Between the Sheets. By now, Jasper had taken over the musical direction of the group. Inspired by Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing, he took the Isleys straight to the bedroom and showed that they were again more than capable of keeping abreast of the times.
From the satin sheets on the cover inwards, this is all rather sultry. Ronald Isley pleads for a Choosey Lover, requests to be touched extensively (Touch Me), intimates how much he needs a woman (I Need Your Body) all before side one’s, um, climax of Between the Sheets and Let’s Make Love Tonight. Fortunately, Ronald’s sugar-coated vocal brings warmth and sincerity, neatly side-stepping any overt love man clichés. It’s not all frolics, though; as the album progresses, Ballad for the Fallen Soldier looks at families torn apart by war, and Slow Down Children directly references their earlier funk.
Between The Sheets is not great. Title-track aside, it’s not premium Isleys (3 + 3, or even R. Kelly’s work with them in the 21st century is far better), its use of machines date it and Ernie Isley’s guitar is under-used. That said, low-wattage Isleys is still far better than most of their contemporaries.
The album topped the US R&B charts and reached the national top 20, a considerable improvement on The Real Deal. Between the Sheets was the final album to contain the classic, expanded line-up of the group. The older trio went on to make some featureless albums for Warners and the younger grouping of Isley-Jasper-Isley stayed with Epic and continued the themes of Between the Sheets with their Caravan of Love album. Although it has not all worn well, this record is still a delightful diversion.