Love Man: Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye's latest reissue.

Marvin Gaye’s tears, like Levi Stubbs’, endure as a natural phenomenon, no less than a magnolia tree or Tammi Terrell. Every drop was precious and each succeeding one only brought the end nearer. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” we all did., home of the awe-inspiring and ongoing The Complete Motown Singles series, a new Love fest, and plenty more mouth-watering Internet-only boutiquery, expands yet again. In Our Lifetime?, Gaye’s final album for Motown, finds new life in a deluxe, 2-CD makeover. 1981 wasn’t a good year for the tortured singer, but then the point of In Our Lifetime? isn’t how good or overlooked it might be. Rather it’s how astonishing it is despite the blessed mess.

By 1984, when Gaye was shot and killed by his father during an argument, the singer had been drowning in bad marriages and drugs for the better part of a decade. His final run of albums were all open addresses to his partners, beginning with last master class Let’s Get It On, 1973, and dwindling in classicism through ’76’s I Want You, ’78's Here, My Dear, and finally the “Sexual Healing” of last supplication Midnight Love (1982). Penultimate LP In Our Lifetime? boogies toward oblivion with Gaye writhing between conjugal withdrawl and religious salvation. While the eye-popping cover art pits God vs. Satan, the music itself, the grooves and sexual come-ons, matches God against Pan.

Initially, Motown’s flagship crooner wanted to cut a party album in hopes of alleviating his emotional dissolution, but his loneliness got the better of him, and with the help of a basic, albeit dynamite backing band, was a virtual Prince in cutting most everything himself. Tax problems, depression, creative stagnation followed him from studio to studio and in the end Motown released In Our Lifetime? in a version substantially different than what Gaye turned in. Yet another divorce ensued.

Motown’s issue of Lifetime remains your bona fide exhibit A in the Yellow Pages Songbook, as in Marvin Gaye could make up some half-ass groove on the spot, moan an improvised lyric over it, and still make you forsake 90% of all sweet soul music. Opening “Praise” maintains little more than a beat, trumpet, and triangle, but Gaye’s intonations are instant seratonin. “Life is for Learning,” on the surface, isn’t terribly different. Except it’s ear candy, pure undulation whispering the holiest of sins up the nape of your neck.

“Love Party,” shakes and bakes the Book of Revelation; “Funk Me,” another sex rap and an overly long one. Then “Far Cry” drops in. It’s no “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” but the way Gaye’s pure honey voice drips atop some late-night sine waves from the band is serious crack. That one could play 40 minutes straight, easy, instead of the fade at 4:22. Unfortunately, the unedited bonus track merely wanders for two additional minutes.

“Love Me Now or Love Me Later” could go either way, and the smooth R&B halfway through dictates the lean. “Heavy Love Affair”? Not so much. The closing title track lays in one long vamp. That’s the Motown cobble. Gaye’s half-finished London cut cues next.

Like most of these alternate mix affairs, you have to hear at dog frequencies to catch the differences. Yet as with other Universal sponsored double-disc editions, Eric Clapton’s eponymous debut, for instance, or possibly Bob Marley’s Catch a Fire, the original mix here is in fact better, but the album itself only marginally so. “Praise” improves, but “Life is for Learning” loses its luster, and now “Heavy Love Affair” features a French intro and cow bell. “Ego Tripping Out,” the single around which the album was originally built and then left off, falls on its face. “Love Party” has an added sheen-n-scream. Better, yes, but at a dividend of how many extra lifetime spins?

Love Man, the newly discovered album “sketch” that became Lifetime, doesn’t salvage anything, but the silken regret of opener “Life’s a Game of Give and Take” quickens your pulse like scientists discovering water on some distant orb. What’s Going On!? “Life is for Learning” precursor “Life is Now in Session” is equally confident. Sadly, reality returns you to earth with the next two tracks stretching the term “sketch” into the realm of charity, though “Dance ‘N’ Be Happy” belongs on your monkey love CD mix at half the runtime. “Funk Me, Funk Me, Funk Me” demonstrates more stamina than the released version, and closer “A Lover’s Plea” is a weak one. Love Man or Love Boat?

James Brown, whose Singles series verges on volume three (1964-1965) through, carries the answer handcuffed to and inside his Papa’s brand new bags…

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