Gimmicks like drum machines, vocorder vocals and doggerel rap are no substitutes for the glorious symmetry of voices blending in soul harmonies.
The Temptations helped define the Detroit sound in the mid-Sixties with the silky tenor of Eddie Kendricks and the gritty baritone of David Ruffin backed by Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams and Paul Williams. After Ruffin left in 1968 and Kendricks and Paul Williams left in 1971, the group had a few hits and then slid into the netherworld of nostalgia.
This year Ruffin and Kendricks rejoined the latest Temps' lineup of Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, Glenn Leonard and Richard Street, making the quintet a septet. Their album, "Reunion" (Gordy), features them with five different composing-producing teams. Rick James' "Standing on the Top" has given the Temptations their first hit single in a decade.
James' contribution is the weakest part of the album. "Standing on the Top" is ripped- off and watered-down Parliament funk that goes on much too long at 10 minutes. Just as bad is Ron Miller's "I've Never Been to Me," which features some of the sappiest lyrics ever penned and music to match.
But the other five songs are excellent. Smokey Robinson has given the Temptations two of the best songs he's written in a decade. "Backstage" and "More on the Inside" feature the romantic harmonies and clever aphorisms that Robinson once produced in quantity for the Temptations in the early '60s. Under Robinson's precise production guidance, the Temptations' seven voices melt into a warm glow around the songs' sentiments.
The uptempo side of the Temptations is well represented by a Barrette Strong production and two Berry Gordy productions. Strong, who worked with Norman Whitfield on the Temps' late '60s hits, contributes "You Better Beware," a snappy but melodic dance tune that pits Franklin's anchoring base voice against the high-flying tenors of Kendricks and Leonard. Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, proves much funkier than his new star, Rick James, as Gordy brings a big punch to the erotic "Lock it in the Pocket." The Temps' psychedelic soul/social protest era is recalled by Gordy's shout-and-shake version of "money's hard to get."
THE ALBUM: "Reunion" (Gordy)
THE SHOW: Saturday at 8 and 11:30, Sunday at 8 at Constitution Hall.