Millennium – 1993
Produced by Maurice White, Freddie Ravel, Frankie Blue, and Bill Meyers for Kalimba International.
Arranged by Maurice White, Thomas Washington, Bill Meyers, Darnell Spencer, Rex Salas,
Mike McKnight, Freddie Ravel, Jerry Hey, Nicky Brown, and Frankie Blue.
Review by RJM – Rating:
|Who says you can only live twice?
Left for dead in 1990 after "Heritage", Earth Wind & Fire made a move to
return to the sound from their heyday with 1993’s "Millennium". This album was a
gift to their loyal fans, and the faithful appreciated it. The electronics were
put in their proper place, resulting in a more natural and sincere recording. For the
first time since 1980’s "Faces" you hear significant orchestration, and yet the
album is still very electronic; they hadn’t completely shed the influence of the
technological age. In fact, there are a few cuts that would sound at home on
"Heritage" (but if so included would have been the high points of that album).
"Millennium" enjoys a refreshing start at the opening cut "Even If You Wonder". Also featured is their best single in a long time and the choice album cut, the Grammy nominated "Sunday Morning". It’s not deep musically, but the strong sound of chorus brings back fond memories. Ditto for "Bloodbrothers" and "Wouldn’t Change A Thing About You". The former was released as a CD single in Japan with extended version of "Superhero", and the otherwise unreleased "Frontline Of Seduction". (CDBanzai has it for an absurd $27.) Philip’s "Divine" sounds like it belongs on his next self-titled solo album. The pleasant ballads "Just Another Lonely Heart" and "Two Hearts" are deceptive: they are very synthesized. Unfortunately, these both end just as Philip starts to stretch out.
Overall, there are plenty of winners on this album, like the second release, the lovely ballad "Spend The Night", and the Latin "Honor The Magic", in spite of its obsolete lyrics. Also hot are the Stylistics-inspired "Love Across The Wire", and Maurice White’s "Chicago (Chi-Town) Blues", the story of his early Chicago musical career. The rest of the album is consistently interesting and very good, and doesn’t flatten out as it progresses as have some previous EW&F albums.
Guitarist Sheldon Reynolds became more important for "Millennium", moving into the number three vocal spot behind Maurice and Philip. A wide range of contributors were featured, such as Burt Bacharach ("Two Hearts"), Freddie Ravel ("Honor The Magic"), Prince ("Superhero"), Ronnie Laws ("Chicago (Chi-Town) Blues") and Thom Bell ("Love Across The Wire").
Although it is an interesting mix of EW&F and Prince sound, I certainly expected more from EW&F’s collaboration with Prince on his "Superhero", even though its better than the original. Maybe its because whatever-his-name-is-currently isn’t as amazing as everyone thinks. Overall, "Millennium" is very nice and even, although not outstanding, and certainly not among their best or most daring musically. New drummer Sonny Emory doesn’t appear, and unfortunately synth drums abound. At this point, Sonny was not really a member of the studio band even though his association with EW&F goes back to 1987.
EW&F still suffered from the problem which first surfaced in 1979’s "I Am", namely too many outside contributors, which blurs the band’s identity. It’s not clear who, besides Maurice, Philip, Verdine and Sheldon, are actual band members. Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woolfolk are listed as band members, but appear nowhere in the song credits.
Also, "Millennium" isn’t an innovation; it just returned them to a point at which they’d already been. I liken this album to 1980’s "Faces". These albums are somewhat similar in length, content and quality. In terms of its mixture of acoustic and electronic, I liken "Millennium" to 1983’s "Powerlight". And yet, while I receive "Millennium" with nostalgia, "Faces" and "Powerlight" seemed redundant at the time. This is one point where chronology is critically important. "Millennium" may have gotten a lower rating if it had been released at a different time, but gets a good rating since it was released after the unsuccessful 1980s. It also means that I certainly don’t agree with many of the reviews that I have read for this album.
What happened next would be crucial. Most super groups reach far fewer crossroads in their career than EW&F. Would they continue their growth, or would they try for the homogenized pop gimmicks that, in the past, were often disastrous?
However, a much more serious problem emerged in 1993. If you look at the part of the website called "concerning Maurice’s health", you’ll find some information. An appearance on "The Arsenio Hall Show" and subsequently on the "American Music Awards Show" to promote "Millennium" seems to confirm this. This problem apparently surfaced after "Millennium" was recorded since Maurice is in top vocal form on this album. Certainly, there was concern about the future of EW&F’s music, but at this point, its hard not to be more concerned about the man. EW&F has not been forthcoming with the nature of Maurice’s problem, but the man deserves his privacy. He must, however, understand that the concern his fans feel is a response to the way in which he has touched their lives.
The end seemed clear. Even if someone could replace the co-lead vocal, not to mention the heart & soul of EW&F, who would be able to replace the best producer in pop? It would be really hard to call any incarnation without Maurice, "EW&F". So, ironically, things ended on "Chi-town Blues". As it turns out, "Millennium" is a worthy ending to a brilliant story.
"Millennium" quickly faded, and it appeared that EW&F was finished for the third time in a decade, and finally for good. Not just yet!
Total playing time: 64:00
US: Reprise 45274-2
EUR: Reprise 9362-45274-2
JAP: Warner Bros. WPCP 5500
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