Forget about all those newfangled “love men” who’ve been filling up the airwaves lately. It was Smokey Robinson who stirred up the original quiet storm, and the Miracle worker still sings sweet, sophisticated soul better than anyone else on this planet. One Heartbeat is another of Smokey’s breathy gems; it’s his strongest and most accessible effort since 1982’s underrated Touch the Sky.
In less capable hands, “Just to See Her” — the album’s opening cut and first single — would be a standard-issue silly love song, but Smokey works his subtle magic with this slight number, turning it into a convincing midtempo ode about one man’s desperate longing. The title track is an infectious song that’s a bit reminiscent of Smokey’s own “Let Me Be the Time (on the Clock of Your Heart),” from his great LP Warm Thoughts. On “It’s Time to Stop Shoppin’ Around,” which he co-wrote with Marsha Gold, Robinson makes playful references to several soul classics, including one of his own: “It’s time to stop Shoppin’ Around/It’s time to stop Dukin’ of Earl/It’s time to stop Jimmy Mackin’ and/Get myself Back in Your Arms Again.”
Smokey duets with Syreeta Wright (Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife) on “Love Brought Us Here Tonight,” a bland, all-too-easy-listening cut that’s strictly by the book. Maybe he should have hooked up with someone with better pipes. (Somebody give this man Anita Baker’s phone number.) Much better is “Love Don’t Give No Reason,” the most gritty track on this airy, romantically lush album.
The word is that Motown’s chairman, Berry Gordy, was more involved with the making of this album than with any record his label has released in years. And who is more appropriate for Berry to work with than Robinson, Motown’s most musical vice-president? Gordy gets executive-producer credit on One Heartbeat, and if this album is any indication of what happens when the boss logs some hours in the studio, then it’s one hell of an argument for hands-on corporate management.