Millennium – 1993
Review by RJM – Rating:Left for dead after 1990’s «Heritage», Earth Wind & Fire moved toward 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 «Millennium» is still very electronic; they hadn’t completely shed the influence of the technological age. In fact, there are a few cuts which would sound at home on «Heritage» (but if so included would have been the high points of the album).
Guitarist Sheldon Reynolds became more important for «Millennium», moving into the number three vocal spot behind Maurice and Philip. A wide range of contributors are 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»).
«Millennium» enjoys a refreshing start at the opening cut «Even If You Wonder». Their best single in a long time and the choice album cut is the Grammy-nominated «Sunday Morning». It’s not deep musically, but the strong chorus brought back fond memories. Ditto for «Bloodbrothers» and «Wouldn’t Change A Thing About You».
Overall, there are plenty of winners on «Millennium», like the second release, «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» (btw – was I the only person who noticed this?), and Maurice White’s «Chicago (Chi-Town) Blues», the story of his early Chicago musical career.
Philip’s «Divine» sounds like it belonged 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.
It’s an interesting mix of EWF and Prince sound (and way better than the original), but I expected more from this collaboration on «Superhero». Maybe it’s because whatever-his-name-is-currently is overhyped for qualities which aren’t his best. «Blood Brothers» was released as a CD single in Japan with the extended version of «Superhero», and the otherwise unreleased «Frontline Of Seduction». (It’s hard to find and obscenely expensive.)
The rest of the album is consistently interesting and very good, and doesn’t flatten out as it progresses as have some previous EWF works. «Millennium» is very nice and even, but 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 a member of the studio band though his association with EWF dates back to 1987.
EWF still suffered from the problem which first surfaced in 1979’s «I Am». There are too many outside contributors, which blurs the band’s identity. It’s not clear who, besides Maurice, Philip, Verdine and Sheldon, are actually band members. Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woolfolk are listed as such, 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 works are 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 it earns its rating because it came after the unsuccessful 1980s. Other reviewers simply don’t take this into account.
What happened next would be crucial. Most super groups reach far fewer crossroads than EWF. Would they continue their growth, or would they try for the homogenized pop gimmicks which often proved disastrous?
However, a much more serious problem emerged in 1993. An appearance by EWF on «The Arsenio Hall Show» and subsequently on the «American Music Awards Show» to promote «Millennium» indicated Maurice had fallen ill. (See "Concerning Maurice’s health".) This seemingly surfaced after «Millennium» was recorded since Maurice is in top vocal form here.
There was concern about the future of EWF’s music, but at this point, it was hard not to be more concerned about the man. EWF has not been forthcoming with the nature of Maurice’s problem, but the man deserves his privacy. He must, however, understand 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 EWF, who would be able to replace the best producer in pop ? (I state this with all due respect to the Ambassador of Pop Music, aka, The Q.) How could you call any incarnation without Maurice «EWF»? So, ironically, it came to an end on «Chi-town Blues». «Millennium» seemed a worthy ending to a brilliant story.
In spite of the Grammy nomination for «Sunday Morning», «Millennium» quickly faded, and it appeared EWF was finished for the third time in a decade, and finally for good.
Not just yet!
order of strength:
Total playing time: 64:00