Monday, August 12, 2013

Stephanie Mills - Merciless

Today (August 12th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of Merciless, the seventh studio album from Stephanie Mills. Following her 1982 album Tantalizingly Hot (click here for that review), this 1983 release on the Casablanca label charted at number 104 on the US Billboard Hot 200 and number 12 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

Side one starts with “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”, a cover of a 1982 B-side of a single by Prince. As the second single from her album, Mills’ version went to number 12 on the US Billboard R&B chart. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Prince fan and, as such, I like to check out when others interpret his tunes. Mills does a fantastic job here at portraying heartbreak and longing desire, and the musical arrangement is solid too, especially with the horn accents. It ranks right up there with the original in my book.

“Never Get Enough of You” features a funky dance mid-tempo groove. Mills shows off her amazingly versatile vocal chops too.

“Eternal Love”, co-written by Paul Jabara and Jay Asher, is a ballad full of emotional power that builds slow and steady. Later in 1983, Jabara worked with a then-unknown nineteen year Whitney Houston to record a version of the song as well.

Mills is joined by Peggi Blu on “His Name Is Michael”, the B-side to the first single which was co-written by Mills and Michael Sembello. Blu was a former backup singer for the likes of Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and more before doing her first solo album in 1980. She and Mills worked together on Broadway in The Wiz, and she has had a prominent career since. Mills opens by telling her friend Blu about her wonderful new fiancĂ©e only for the two to discover that the man they've both been dating are one in the same.

The dance beats returns with “Here I Am”, the B-side to the second single. The lyrics tell of a young woman offering to help a playboy settle down.

Side two begins with “My Body”, which was written by Luther Vandross. This was the only track from the album that I could not find anywhere on-line to listen to, and that is a shame. I was really looking forward to hearing Mills and Vandross sing together on it.

Things slow down as Mills poses the question "Do You Love Him". I like how the sentiment is to wait on the answer before taking one’s own actions.

We next take to the skies with another dance tune. “Pilot Error”, the first single, reached at number 12 on the US Billboard R&B chart and number 3 on the US Billboard Dance chart. The lyrics are generously peppered with aeronautical terminology.

“Since We’ve Been Together” closes things out. This up-beat appreciation of being in love is built upon a funky bass groove with keyboard accompaniment.

I did not own a copy of Merciless back in the day; and today, the re-mastered CD is tough to come by (you have to get it as an import here in the US, at a higher price tag). Thanks mostly to YouTube postings by other Stephanie Mills fans, I was able to give the album a first-time listen through for this review. I very much enjoyed the record and plan to seek out an affordable copy of the CD. Mills is one of those often-forgotten R&B singers from the late 70's and early 80's; I think she is a spectacular talent whose music deserves to be heard more often.

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