Never Let Me Go, like most Luther Vandross albums, is a flawless display of technique blessed with exquisite singing, well-crafted arrangements and a mix that has been tweaked to perfection. Unfortunately, the end result is more soporific than soulful — meaning that all Vandross ends up with is the quiet-storm equivalent of elevator music.
It’s not as if he’s loafing, mind you. Some of what he does is amazing, like the shimmering vibrato that highlights the tag line in “Hustle” or the angelic ascent of the climax of “Too Far Down.” This is world-class singing, and Vandross makes it all the more impressive by tossing such tricks off without even breaking a sweat.
But soul singing is supposed to have sweat in it. It’s supposed to be visceral and emotionally involving, and Vandross’ too-smooth approach shows none of that. “Love Me Again” should be a heart-baring plea, yet as Vandross sings it, it’s merely a suggestion; likewise, “Emotion Eyes” ought to be a tear-filled lament but barely gets even a little misty. And his blasé delivery of “Love Is on the Way” contradicts the chorus’s insistence that he’s “so excited it’s a crime.”
Never Let Me Go isn’t a total failure — Marcus Miller’s string-popping bass line on “Heaven Knows” briefly rouses Vandross from his torpor, and the Philly-style “Can’t Be Doin’ That Now” shows occasional signs of life. But given the emotional power his albums have conveyed in the past, it’s disheartening to hear Vandross waste his time on such well-recorded piffle.