You're the Man

Marvin Gaye

Motown Records, 2019

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


It’s always dangerous to make a sequel to a masterpiece, but artists can’t seem to help themselves. Sometimes the result is another astounding piece of art that rivals the original and even surpasses it in some areas (e.g., The Godfather II). Other times you get a sloppy, ill-conceived mess that threatens to tarnish its precursor’s legacy (e.g., The Godfather III).

You’re The Man, Marvin Gaye’s unreleased-until-now sequel to 1971’s universally acclaimed What’s Going On, thankfully comes closer to the former result than the latter, offering a glimpse of an artist at the peak of his powers with something to say. While never quite matching the depth or groundbreaking power of its predecessor, You’re The Man is nevertheless a worthy addition to Gaye’s discography, and its release (prompted by what would have been Gaye’s 80th birthday) is a boon to fans of soul’s greatest voice.

In reflecting on the album, one must start with its title track, which debuted as a single in the summer of 1972 but was met with mixed critical and popular reaction, prompting Gaye to shelve the entire project. Listening to the song (along with a funky alternate take on the album’s back end), one can see both why Gaye thought it a worthy follow-up to What’s Going On and why listeners couldn’t bring themselves to agree. There’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 something there, no doubt about it, a musicality and conviction that gets your attention, but it fails to penetrate the way that “What’s Going On” or “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” did. I attribute this to a lack of focus – while I’d gladly listen to Marvin Gaye sing a grocery list, sometimes it feels like that’s what happening in this song. Prompted by the upcoming 1972 presidential election, Gaye addresses busing, the value of the dollar, unemployment, inflation, and Vietnam, all in less than six minutes. A tighter focus might have yielded more success.

“The World Is Rated X” does a better job in this respect, offering another socially conscious song about the ills of 1970s America, particularly in the inner city. Lyrically a companion to “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” this song contrasts its upbeat, funky music with biting lyrics. Along the same lines, “Where Are We Going?” carries a searching, even pessimistic message even as the beat gets your toes tapping. “I Want to Come Home For Christmas,” one of the more impressive vocal performances on the album, tells the story of Vietnam P.O.W.s longing to make it home in time for the holidays. All of these songs resonate today, even as the issues driving them have mostly receded into history.

For those wanting more typical R&B ballads, there’s plenty of romance to be found. “I’d Give My Life To You,” “Symphony,” and “I’d Give My Life For You,” all remixed for this release by SalaAM, are unlikely to supplant any Gaye classics as your favorite love song, but they fill out the album nicely and give the listener some breathing room after the heavy subject matter of its first few songs. “We Can Make It Baby” and “I’m Gonna Give You Respect” both offer more upbeat, brass-heavy tracks, Motown at its finest.

The standout track on the album is certainly “Pieces Of Clay,” which transitions from piercing electric guitar to organ to gentle piano before Gaye’s voice, always his music’s best instrument, enters the picture. Musically, this is the most fully realized song on the album, and lyrically its message about hypocrisy and power (“Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay”) resonates in our hyper-political time.

You’re The Man isn’t perfect, lacking the cohesion and focus of What’s Going On, and padded with some forgettable tracks (including two instrumental songs – no disrespect intended, but nobody buys a Marvin Gaye album to hear the band). Nevertheless, Gaye’s decision to shelve the album looks shortsighted today, and its release is a welcome gift for fans of one of American music’s greatest voices. As both a historical document and a piece of music, You’re The Man is more than worth your time and attention.

Rating: A-

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