Can’t Slow Down – Lionel Richie (1983)

Lionel Richie In Concert
Lionel Richie, U.S. singer-songwriter, during a live concert performance at Wembley Arena, London, England, Great Britain, May 1987. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)

Lionel Richie released his second studio album in 1983 with “Can’t Slow Down”. This was a commercially successful album which had Richie enjoying big selling success like his other male counterparts Michael Jackson & Prince.

Whilst both Jackson & Prince had an edginess about their style Richie was the opposite with a smoother more middle of the road approach. Despite coming from Funk band The Commodores Richie was always destined for a crossover career.

The title track “Can’t Slow Down” opens the album and will fool you into thinking that Richie is looking for a 80’s synth funk sound with this project. It’s not very vocally impressive and the scattered beats play throughout the song.

My issue with the song is that it feels a bit thin. The baseline is not prominent enough and the song doesn’t feel full. I feel there is a good song in their somewhere but when you can’t even identify with Richie’s voice it doesn’t really work.

The second track on the album is the most recognized song of Lionel Richie’s long and successful career. “All Night Long” is a track which Richie introduces a more Caribbean sound to his music. The song is all about how catchy the chorus is and just about anyone is probably familiar with it. It’s a gargantuan of a pop song where Richie is in a feel good mood talking about having a good time.

There is ultimate positivity pouring out of the song and it is a favourite for many BUT I have to say “All Night Long” has never done anything for me. I don’t hate the track but I always think it is overrated certainly as a party track as until the chorus the song is quite downbeat and quiet. The faux Caribbean style is just so watered down it’s almost a parody at times.

Things are slowed down with the first ballad on the set “Penny Lover”. Richie has a brilliant knack at creating catchy, crossover, melodic tracks and this is no exception.

The smoothness of the song boarders on cheesy. It’s just so sickly sweet but at the same time I don’t question the sincerity of Richie’s sentiment. I believe that he means what he is saying and he is not afraid to pour his heart out and show his sensitive side.

If you thought Penny Lover was a little over the top then we get “Stuck On You”. The way Richie crafts a good solid pop ballad is impressive because it all seems so simple. This track though veers away from the R&B/Soul sound that Richie has come out of and it is a more radio friendly almost country music sound that develops on “Stuck On You”.

Richie’s vocal is faultless on a very pretty track.

“Love Will Find Away” comes next and is without a doubt the most soulful track on the entire album. Richie connects more with me musically on this track given that my musical love is for Soul music. The trouble I’ve had with Lionel Richie is that his veer towards the middle of the road renders him unimportant in the spectrum of great soul singers despite him having all the tools to be as good as any of the Soul greats.

On this song his vocal is stripped down and he sounds a lot more ‘adult’ in his phrasing and tone. I believe this is one of the greatest vocal performances Richie has given on any of his studio albums and whilst this song isn’t one of his better know tracks it is certainly one that has me more interested than anything else on the album.

“The Only One” is the 7th track. It remains true to the R&B moment Richie is having with it’s instrumentation but the melody and vocal is so bland it’s not even got that cheesy vibe to carry it through any longer.

“Running With The Night” hits home what I think Richie was wanting to create with many of the tracks on the album which is his own take on Pop/Soul. I actually like this song and the whole way it is produced. The base is more full and you can really hear it drive the song forward. The vocal is on point and it’s still got that catchy element that Richie loves to deliver in his music.

“Can’t Slow Down” finishes with the song “Hello”. Again this is a song that most people will know given how big a hit it was and the fact that not one day would go past without an array of radio stations playing it.

It’s so simple musically. There is not much going on at all for the first 90 seconds as the chords are so basic it must infuriate song writers who wished they had come up with it.

The lyrics are slushy but this is something we have come to expect of Richie:

I’ve been alone with you
Inside my mind
And in my dreams I’ve kissed your lips
A thousand times
I sometimes see you
Pass outside my door
Hello!
Is it me you’re looking for?

The video for this track is almost as famous as the song itself and if you haven’t seen it (which I can’t believe you haven’t) please make sure you do. Richie is a teacher who follows around his blind student that he seems to fancy. It’s creepy, stalkerish and the blind girl makes a giant bust of Richie’s head. Bizarre.

Lionel Richie does not do enough to satisfy the Soul/R&B fan base which the foundations of his musical life to this point had come from. There is a blandness and lack of depth to his songs to fit into the category of soul greats like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

I do believe that Richie wanted to crossover to the mainstream (white people) with this project and he did exactly what he needed to do. But unlike Jackson and Prince he doesn’t perk the interest further because the songs are just mushy and at times just plain maudlin.

 

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