The sound of the Commodores as Lionel Richie takes centre stage.
Daryl Easlea 2010-10-26
Known as Zoom in the UK, the Commodores’ eponymous fifth LP was the start of the group’s love affair with the British public. It is very much a transitional work, highlighting the greasy southern funk that the group so ably practiced before pianist and saxophonist Lionel Richie firmly took centre stage.
The ‘old’ Commodores is represented by the lascivious opener Squeeze the Fruit and Walter Orange’s funk masterpiece, the they-don’t-make-‘em-like-that-anymore tribute to the fuller figure, Brick House. Heaven Knows is a beautiful mixture of the ballad side and the hard-edged groove of the group, sounding almost like an off-the-peg cut from one of Lionel Richie’s mid-80s albums.
As soon as you hear Richie’s two showcases, Zoom and Easy, it is almost as if the number is up for the old band – how can this man not carry the Commodores off to new levels of commercial success? Zoom casts him as the eternal optimist, searching for something just out of reach. One could almost make a cogent argument for this being a Civil Rights song completely out of era, with lyrics such as "wish the word they call freedom someday would come". It is not too much of a leap of faith to see this number recast as a Van Morrison song of the era, which some beautiful orchestral touches added by producer James Carmichael. Although issued only a few years earlier, fiery first album jams such as I Feel Sanctified or Young Girls Are My Weakness seem like light years away.
Easy is arguably Richie’s best ballad, one of the greatest soul-country hybrids on record. It works well, because unlike his later schmaltz-fests, it is marvellously unsentimental. Richie refuses to be shackled down; he is the man of the road, just as he portrayed himself as the dreamer in Zoom. It provided the group with their first UK top 10 hit and has enjoyed a long afterlife, from building society commercials to an unexpected cover version by Faith No More (which actually charted higher in the UK than the original version).
The album was a huge hit in the US, setting the Commodores fair for their chart-topping scene stealing as the 70s became the 80s. In the UK, the reaction was a little more muted. However, Easy paved the way for Three Times a Lady and Still, and Lionel Richie’s unshakeable place as a favourite artist of millions.