As a soul man, Luther Vandross has a unique image. Forsaking the role of Demanding Lover or Five-Star Stud played by the likes of Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye, Vandross is usually pursuing a woman who is elusive, independent or stepping out on him. He doesn’t get angry or play the clown, but responds by expressing his undying love. It’s the kind of stance that could make one seem like a patsy, but Vandross is able to pull it off because of his magnificently androgynous voice, which sounds like a sonic battle of the sexes, velvety smoothness reinforced with supreme confidence.
On Busy Body, Vandross’ third and best solo album, the singer brings a few changes to his favorite role. The silky, Boz Scaggs-like title cut spells out every aspect of his woman’s unfaithfulness; then, on the jaunty “I’ll Let You Slide,” he becomes testy in a jovial way. “If we do it twice in the mornin’,” he bargains, “I’ll let you slide tonight.” He shows an unlimited patience in the extended, daring (for a man) and brilliant rendition of Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s “Superstar,” which closes the album. The I’ll wait-forever passion of that song is topped only by the exuberance of “For the Sweetness of Your Love,” in which Vandross vows, “I’ll even wrestle Mr. T!” What more could a lover ask?
Throughout the album, Vandross is the vocal maestro, enlisting as backup singers such first-rate talent as Darlene Love, Cissy Houston, Patti Austin, David Lasley and Chic’s Alfa Anderson. And he coaxes a superb performance out of Dionne Warwick on their torrid duet “How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye.” Musically, Vandross relies on a crack crew of musicians, including the fine keyboardist arranger Nathaniel Adderley Jr. and his all-purpose right-hand man, Marcus Miller, whose popping bass and synthesizer wizardry are as crucial to Vandross’ sound as his own irrepressible scat singing. Among pop-soul ensembles at the moment, they’re my idea of the A-Team.