Pure Soul 1997Wet Ink Artist

Pure Soul

1997 / 1998

Polygram TV

I’m not sure what these two compilations are doing on a label that has TV in its title (unless they’re marketed through that medium), but these are some classy collections of contemporary smooth R+B and upbeat dance pop that deliver exactly what they promise.

Pure Soul was a bit of a revelation to me. The state of black soul, at least what gets played on the radio these days, is so horrendous that I’ve long since given up trying to stay on top of what’s hot. It all sounds so slick, pre-programmed, and oddly soul-LESS that I had abandoned any faith of ever hearing another unique mind-blowing voice like Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, or Stevie Wonder. And even though there’s nobody on PS’97 that approaches the thrilling gospel/R+B/blues feel that those icons put into every song, there’s still lots to like scattered throughout the album’s 16 cuts. Old schoolers Quincy Jones and Barry White rub elbows with youngsters whose names are new to me like MoKenStef, Joe, and Solo. Marquee drawers Boyz II Men, Tony, Toni, Tone, and Jodeci pull in some firepower, and even though there’s a glossy slickness to the ballad0bloated 75 minute collection, which gets awfully heavy-handed, the singers (if not always the songs) have enough gritty enthusiasm to compensate. Still, I yearn for at least a few tunes that aren’t synth based and have real drums. It’s all great make-out luv music, though, and an album closer by the grand daddy of this stuff, Barry White, is a fitting tribute to a master of the sexy soul genre that the album unabashedly wallows in.

The oddly titled Pure Dance 1998 (note the year!?!) disc is a reasonably interesting concept. The album slams together the short dance mixes of (1997) dance hits by 17 club heroes, most of which I’m not familiar with (excepting U2’s “Discotheque,” which makes a token appearance). As you might expect, the stuff is fine to burn up the dance floor to, but as a listening experience comes up sadly short. The beat is everything, of course, so minor considerations like lyrics and melody take a back seat for 60 minutes of butt-shaking dance repetitions and repeated catch phrases. Once again, there’s a decided lack of organic instruments (especially drums) and the brittle, synth-heavy mix and consistent BPM concept is tiring over a full album. There’s little or no funk here, and even though some might call this fun-KY, the music’s static sterility and spikey sheen robs it of any soul. Even Tony, Toni, Tone (the only group on both albums) comes off as bland when the beats are accentuated over their marvelous voices.

The current state of soul and dance, at least according to these releases, is studio polished with all rough edges removed. They’re both fine as time capsules of contemporary black music, but for emotive power that digs deep, I’ll take a Temptations album anyday.

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