There can be no doubt that Lionel Richie has enjoyed phenomenal career success. His early achievements with The Commodores throughout the ’70s heralded even bigger solo rewards in the ’80s and he has garnered 22 Number Ones, 100 million sales, several Grammy Awards and an Oscar during his 32 years of releasing records.
Richie feels that Just For You, only his eighth solo LP release, represents a back to basics record, simple in melody and production and so offering a freshness and accessibility. However, the title track Just For You in no way heralds new and exciting things and seems a drab reworking of the worst kind of MOR pop – trite and sluggish.
I Still Believe is an upbeat, optimistic love song, surprising in the light of Richies’ impending divorce. Despite the optimism, this song plods in a terribly tedious way and when simplicity translates as dubiously dull, we must question the prudence of this back to basics approach.
Just To Be With You Again is what Richie does best, however: love songs that ease the listener. There is nothing complicated about it, it doesn’t proffer the beautiful key changes and lovely melodies we’ve come to hope for from Richie; it’s just nice.
She’s Amazing harks back to All Night Long with its world beat, funky guitar and jive soul which holds the listener more than The World Is A Party, which is just drab.
Throughout the album, the lyrics are unfortunately mawkish. In Dance For the World, the best Richie can do by way of a political rant is, “People, it’s time now, something’s got to change, people, we no longer can live in pain.” Richie says that he writes lyrics for “the people”, in ways “the people” can understand, but when the majority of “the people” are politically dyslexic and poetically challenged, surely we need writers to inspire and lead the way, not mimic our ignorance.
Do Ya, the duet with Daniel Bedingfield and If You Belong To Me are arguably the high points on the album with the final track funking it up in a slow way that vaguely reminds of the seemingly long lost Richie.
Extraordinary success invariably leads to creative struggles. There are few globally massive artists that can recreate and continually release material of the highest standards. Commercial pressures, artistic doldrums or plain celebrity lethargy often obliterate the talented. There are exceptions, but not many, and Just For You does not represent one.
I have no doubt that this LP will sell to fans. They will attend his concerts in their droves and will sing-along-a-Richie to all the old favourites, many of which are superbly crafted songs. However, this album in comparison feels chronically underdeveloped and bland, which is hugely disappointing.