With Barry White on the wane, Marvin Gaye seems determined to take over as soul’s master philosopher in the bedroom, a position that requires little but an affectation of constant, rather jaded horniness. The pose has already been established in Let’s Get It On (1973), on which Gaye was hot, tender, aggressive, soothing and casually raunchy — the modern lover with all his contradictions.
I Want You continues in the same vein but with only the faintest traces of the robust passion that shot through and sustained the earlier album. The urgency of the lyrics,
I’m gonna be stroking you
In and out
Up and down
I love to hear you make those sounds,
Gaye sings on “Feel All My Love Inside” drains away, undermined by the laid-back passivity of the vocals and a production (by Leon Ware) too pleasant, low-keyed and subtle for its own good. As pillow talk this is entirely too limp, and in spite of the presence on several tracks of a woman’s delighted sighs and moans (such a common effect these days that one is surprised not to find a background orgasm credit), the action here isn’t much more than attractive but unenthusiastic foreplay. Gaye pleads and cajoles — “Baby please let me do it to you” — but too often he ends up sounding like a little boy whining for candy.
All of this might have been more acceptable — or less disappointing — from a lesser performer than Gaye, but after a landmark album like What’s Goin’ On one expects something with a little more substance and spirit. But there’s no fire here, only a well-concealed pilot light.