Thursday, March 19, 2009

Millie Jackson - The Tide Is Turning

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.


Anonymous said...

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John said...

I don't know if it had anything to do with Millie flopping, but Vesta's "4U" (classic IMHO) was out at the same time, and had a similar sound, but a lot more sass. Vesta had a tad more success...okay, a LOT more. Even had a minor crossover pop hit with "Congratulations".

Mike said...

Thanks, Anon!

John, I'm not overly familiar with Vesta. I have a couple of her songs on compilation CDs but I'll definitely check her out. If she's anything like Millie, Vesta will be right up my alley.

Jamie_movietrip said...

Millie!!!! You Knocked The Love Right Outta My Heart (later covered, badly, by the Pointer Sisters) is amongst her best work! I love it. Shame about the rest of the CD, but I'm glad you've taken it out of complete obscurity and done a review.

I really hope she does a new CD soon - Millie is low brow enough to cut it with any of todays hip-pop stars. There are some extended mixes of both You Knocked The Love and Something You Can Fee, but they aren't the most exciting things I've ever heart. I'm so glad Millie went back to the shit in the end, even if she's probably in some caravan somewhere now smoking crack and getting some 'slow tongue'....

Tommy said...

Great post on one of Millie's more overlooked records. I love it when you cover Millie J! Like you, I actually enjoy this album, even if they (unwisely) dulled off much of her edge in the process. Though I have to say. "You Knocked The Love.." almost makes up for it. I love your description of her vocals on it, they're practically the definition of fierce! I can't help but laught to myself a little when the line "I saw the light, when you started kickin' my behind" comes on. That one gets me every time lol.. Besides that, I thought some of the ballads on the album were among her best.

Anyway, great post as always!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Chris O, here. Thank you for the GREAT review. I think you are spot on. This is the first cd I ever came across by Millie J; in a cut-out bin, no less. I bought it, and liked her, better than I liked the album as a whole. It lead me to seeking out ehr other albums, so it's all good. CAUGHT UP was my next purchase. Highlights are the title track/YOU KNOCKED THE LOVE RIGHT OUTTA MY HEART/IN MY DREAMS and COVER ME. Would love to have remastered copies of her work on JIVE. I am one of those who had a seriously hard time with BACK TO THE SHIT, and in fact, left a savage review of it on Amazon long ago. Feel like checking it out again, just to see if my feelings for it have changed. p.s. JUST A LIL' BIT COUNTRY is just that: just a LIL' bit! Very overlooked, and unjustly so. Do you agree?