The Temptations celebrate their longevity with ‘Temptations 60′

REVIEW: ‘Temptations 60’ is the latest album from the legendary quintet that has flashes of brilliance

There are popular groups, there are progressive groups, and there are legendary groups. But then, you have the standard. The group that all after it is measured by. The Temptations are not the first male soul quintet, but they set the standard for all after them. 

This year marks their sixth decade as a vocal institution. Literally. With numerous line-up changes, two things have remained constant; the presence of founder Otis Williams, and their reputation as peerless vocal harmonizers. 

How do you celebrate some many years of hits like “My Girl,” “Psychodelic Shack,” “Just My Imagination,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Cloud Nine,” and so many others? For the Temptations, they released a new album, Temptations 60, named for 60 years since they signed to Motown Records. 

Released by Universal Music Group (UMG) in January, the album was slated to be a victory lap of sorts, fusing the Temptations’ signature sounds with some fresh influences. Although on the surface that’s what it sounds like, it turns out to be an album with more moments of brilliance and pleasure.  

Right from the start, opening “Let It Reign” tips the listener off that The Tempts are up to date with the times, thematically and sonically. Mostly featuring rapping from K. Sparks, the song is a political call to action in response to the social upheaval happening in the country. The melodic chants of “We need peace, we need change, we need soul,” are anthemic and inspiring. 

They later return to the social themes with “Time For the People.” It starts with sampled vocals from Black Lives Matter protests, as shouts of “No Justice, No Peace” set the tone for this funky call to action:

“Don’t let this people try to fool ya (they don’t know what the problem is)
They done changed the games into a habit (giving more people the biz)”

It’s refreshing that a group that’s been around so long isn’t resting on its laurels and continues to use their platform to address social issues. 

The Temptations
(Credit: Temptations Facebook/Jay Gilbert)

With several producers throughout the album, including co-founder Otis Williams, Smokey Robinson, three-time Grammy winner Narada Michael Walden, and Thomas “TC” Campbell, Temptations 60 goes back and forth between old-school Motown throwback, synthesized funk, and updated soul. 

What worked so well about their 1998 number one single, “Stay,” produced by Walden, is that it was the right balance between honoring the past and embracing the present, thanks to a sample of “My Girl.”  It’s for this reason that the highlight of the album is “How Do You Spell Love.”

It’s a song that composition-wise could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with songs like “Treat Her Like a Lady” and “A Fine Mess.” It’s easy to sing along with, has an enjoyable sprinkling of synthesizers and horns and the singing gets your feet moving in a two-step. 

Their collaboration with Robinson harkens back to when he gave The Temptations their first smash hits, like “My Girl,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” and “Since I Lost My Baby.” As the album’s lead single, “Is it Gonna Be Yes or No” is a classy bedroom ballad. Lyrics like “Hesitating/Why you gonna keep me waiting/we should be participating” are sly, veiled calls of yearning and pleading. 

On the flip side, “Calling Out Your Name” offers a more current sentiment of sensuality, both in lyric and production. It would fit well-formatted on current Quiet Storm radio. “My Whole World Stopped Without You” goes back to The Temptations’ old doo-wop days. 

If there’s one song that really encapsulates the tone of the album, it’s “When We Were Kings.” It talks about the original Temptations’ heyday in the 1960s and 1970s at Motown Records; “When we were kings, we had it going on so strong.” Singing “like angels” with their potent five-part harmonies, name-dropping former members like David Ruffin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, and Dennis Edwards. It opened with a vintage Benny Benjamin drum fill. 

While it’s a nice nostalgic nod at the legendary voices that made The Temptations the icons they are today, it’s also a poignant reminder of mortality that offers real depth. Temptations 60 is a reminder that the Tempts are still around and can still sing and add additions to their catalog of classic songs. Let’s give them their flowers.

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