Pop Trash regulars will be familiar with my love for Millie Jackson. The R'n'B icon is one of my favourite divas and I've devoted quite a few posts to her over the past couple of years. At her best, Millie J was in a league of her own. She went where other divas feared to tread, singing about relationships and sex with unprecedented candor and biting humour. In the process, she created her own genre of foul mouthed, comedic soul music and recorded some of the most memorable albums of the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, "The Tide Is Turning" isn't one of them. You might wonder why I would write about one of Millie's lesser albums when there are so many gems in her back catalogue to gush over. The reason is simple - I can't find a single review of the album online. Hell, it doesn't even have a Discogs entry! While not a masterpiece, "The Tide Is Turning" is still a fine album. Even a sub-par Millie Jackson still runs rings around most bitches!
By 1988 Millie had already released 20 albums in a career spanning almost two decades. She was also in the middle of a surprise comeback. Her previous offering, "An Imitation Of Love", had unexpectedly spawned two top 10 R'n'B hits - bringing her back to the mainstream after a couple of colourful detours. That album was Millie's first for Jive Records and it signalled a radical change of image. The filthy lyrics and foul language that made Ms Jackson famous in the first place were toned down and her comedic interludes were cut. For "The Tide Is Turning", Jive stuck to the same blueprint. Only this time around, the raunch was removed altogether and the song selection is dominated by pretty but heavily produced ballads. As a result, they lost what makes Millie so special. Her edge.
You Knocked The Love (Right Outta My Heart)
The album begins on high with the languid but lovely title track. Produced by Timmy Allen (who went on to work with Britney and The Backstreet Boys), "The Tide Is Turning" is a sweet ballad that wouldn't sound out of place on an Anita Baker record. It's subtle and restrained - two adjectives that you wouldn't normally associate with Millie! The next track and the album's only single, "Something You Can Feel", is 80s R'n'B at its least inspiring. Written and produced by soul legend Eddie LeVert, his son Gerald and Marc Gordon (both members of popular 80s group LeVert), the track is a miserable imitation of the Jam & Lewis sound. There's no hook, no melody and not much of a chorus to mention.
After a brief uptempo detour, Millie reverts to ballad mode on the self-penned "Are You That Someone". While pleasant enough, Loris Holland's production is a little too clean and sterile for my liking - making the song one of the album's least appealing moments. The balladry continues on "In My Dreams" but Team LeVert get it right this time, delivering a juicy chunk of soul that Millie really gets her teeth stuck into. I love everything about this. The melody is charming, Millie J gets to show off the full range of her powerful pipes and the lyrics are sweet without being too soppy. "You Knocked The Love (Right Outta My Heart)" is not only a welcome change of pace in the wake of so many ballads, it's also one of the few tracks that can be described as typically Millie. The outrageous lyrics are back ("I thought you were on a mission from Hades, you were like a mad dog with a case of the rabies!"), as is the controversial subject matter (domestic violence). The vocal on this is just fierce - Millie J gives her deadbeat man a verbal beating! Timmy Allen's production is also a lot of fun, from the very 80s guitar solo to the sax.
Cover Me (Wall To Wall)
After a slow start, "The Tide Is Turning" has well and truly gathered momentum by "Cover Me (Wall To Wall)". This is the album's only real upbeat pop anthem and Millie makes the most of it, wringing the saucy lyrics for every last drop of attitude. The song is the handiwork of Jon Astrop, who produced many of Samantha Fox's 80s hits. I wish he had collaborated with Millie on more tracks because this sound is perfect for her. "The Tide Is Turning" comes to a close with two great ballads. "Let Me Show You" is a soft and delicate delight, while "I Almost Believed You" is as pretty as it is sincere. The latter is also the album's only cover version. "I Almost Believed You" was first recorded by Michael Bolton five years earlier but Millie really makes it her own.
Writing this post, I can't help but feel "The Tide Is Turning" has been unjustly forgotten. It's not only an enjoyable album but I think its failure played a big role in Millie's decision to record "Back To The Shit" - the 1989 trash classic that essentially ended her career. On that opus Millie makes several quips about "The Tide Is Turning". She pointedly refers to it as the album that nobody bought and shares her frustration at not being played on the radio. Her answer was to return to her foul mouthed roots (ie. to get back to the shit) and give her fans what she thought they wanted. Millie might have overreacted slightly. I'm sure "The Tide Is Turning" would have been a success with a better lead single and more of her famous attitude. As it is, the album showcases Millie's most underrated gift - her voice.