Any Love

On his sixth album in seven years, Luther Vandross sounds a bit fed up. As the most powerful and popular balladeer of the Eighties, he has doggedly defended romantic bliss, or at least the hope for it. Any Love might mark the end of that cycle, however, as some doubts start to creep in.

It's not that Vandross hasn't sung with or about anguish before — just that now almost all of his lovers are cheating, hesitant or invisible. He confronts a fair-weather love in "Are You Gonna Love Me" but never gets the resolution he seeks. His impatience bubbles over in a not-so-subtle crescendo on "For You to Love," and he hits skid row on the title cut, randomly begging for anyone to tell him where he can find any love.

Vandross's disillusionment has no effect on the musicality of his voice: he tunnels down and still sounds tender; he slips in and out of falsetto in a heartbeat; he bends and twists notes most singers can't even grip. While musically he always lands on his feet, emotionally he falls squarely face down.

Vandross goes to the soul-chestnut well one more time for Major Harris's 1974 hit "Love Won't Let Me Wait," which would seem to fit in nicely with the album's frustration theme. But in spite of Vandross's success with covers, he somehow misses the mark here. The appeal of the original "Love Won't Let Me Wait" was its boozy arrangement; Vandross transforms it into his usual marathon tour de force but somehow can't tie all the threads together.

There's no question that Any Love is as masterful an album as Vandross has made; it's probably only likable, though, for those who get off on severe bouts of melancholia.

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