Right now, there is a songwriter in need of a composition. But mental fatigue is decidedly winning the battle. To equalize the playing field, said lyricist wraps an assortment of gaudy clichés around the obligatory parallel—surveying the analogous relationship between desired conquest and inanimate object. Perhaps, the personified object is a food or a type of car. “Not a jeep, though. That’s already been done.”
With all of the erotic bells and whistles in place, our protagonist can sit back and say, “It was written…a love song.”
Love is an abstraction that lives well beyond the limits of human understanding. There is a certain malleability inherent in the indefinable that allows, almost contradictorily, for it to be effortlessly expressible. Because of this, love is the habitual muse of the lazy and/or inadequate songwriter. I’ve grown weary of love songs for that very reason. I often wonder…
What about the other side of the game?
Love’s demise is like that car crash on the side of the road. You’re not supposed to look and yet, you can’t stop yourself from being consumed by this uninhibited reality. It’s gorgeously tragic.
That’s the underlying paradox found in the title, Life Is Good. But before Nasir there was another black king scorned.
Here, My Dear is not a retelling of the ill-fated union between Marvin Gaye and Anna Gordy. This is the letter written shortly thereafter. It is reflective, but not without flaw. Emotionally, Gaye is unhinged, finding a disturbingly upbeat resolve amongst his moments of unwavering depression, creating something that is markedly reactionary. Dominating much of the album’s discourse, his performance is sold predominately through a stream of consciousness that could only be the result of a fragile state. Many have pointed to this, arguing that his lyrical acuity was hampered by internal struggle. Instead, I argue that his words found a much stronger resolution simply because of this conflict.
Let us, for the moment, take a step back. Sonically, Here, My Dear is an undeniable product of the 1970s. The canvas is descriptively R&B, but the rhythms maintain much of the slick funk vibes found on I Want You and Let’s Get It On. There is, however, a slight, but significant divergence. Unlike other projects of the era, the music wasn’t all that overwhelming. It never quite commands anything of you, as is the case with others in the Gaye catalog. For example:
If I were to walk into a crowded room, of any demographic, and throw on “Got To Give It Up,” everyone would start to groove. It’s a gut reaction, provided by the music.
If I were to walk into a crowded room, of any demographic, and throw on “Feel All My Love Inside,” everyone would…do things that you’ll have to think about on your own time, because this is a family site. But, whatever it is…they wouldn’t be able to stop.
And that’s the point. Gaye’s music carries the persuasion principle. Regardless, of your situation, hearing it makes you drop whatever it is that you were doing and follow along with the Pied Piper of Soul. That’s not necessarily the case with Here, My Dear. And it’s not that I’m putting the music down. It’s phenomenal in its own right. However, that particular element is simply missing, but not without reason.
Aesthetic, than, can be considered more laid back, slightly diluted even. It allows for the album’s most convincing element to take center stage—songwriting. The titular opening track never takes flight, but instead maintains a steady rhythm throughout. This gives Marvin the opportunity to emote on an entirely different level. By the time he reaches his concluding dialogue, the focus is on him and him only.
“So here it is, babe. I hope you enjoy…
..This is what you wanted. Here, dear. Here it is…”
This is reflected even more so just a track later on “I Met A Little Girl.” As a shallow groove leads us to the dénouement, Marvin just puts it out there:
“Do you cry about me?
Do you think about the kind of love we had?”
“Hal le hallelujah
Hal le lu…I’m free.”
In the space of thirty seconds, Gaye has traversed the entirety of the emotional plane. As it were, he anxiously reveals his insecurity in a past relationship, practically weeping along the track. And just like that, he is reading his freedom papers as if he had been ready to leave all along. Recognizing the contradiction is necessary for contextualizing the conflicted spirit of Marvin Gaye. It provides the proper framework for authenticating his emotions. The music allows for it.
Of all the records, “Anna’s Song” is, perhaps, the most stirring. Simply pleading her name, Gaye elongates his cry, exacerbating his pain. Set to a smooth R&B melody, it could have just as easily doubled as a classic bedroom joint from the Marvin Gaye playbook. This only makes the listener sympathize more.
But truthfully, I’ll take “Falling In Love Again.” It’s an entirely new emotion. This is the completely necessary “I’ved-moved-on-to-something-younger-and-better” record. Instantly, we get a lighter, more buoyant sound.
I’m falling in love again, falling in love again, falling in love
Once again…Hey baby…
She’s pretty, outside and in.
She’s so wonderful. I tried not to let my heart step in…”
And, to be completely honest, I don’t believe a single word of it. But that’s why it’s so great. I read the flowery text, the uplifting sound, as overcompensation for the saturated pain interred in the album. It’s truthful, insomuch that Marvin seems to be lying to himself. And after any break up, there’s nothing quite realer than that.
Here, My Dear is an honest account of life and love. There’s no pretty language; no pretty bow on top. And that’s why I think it succeeds. I’m not calling it Marvin Gaye’s greatest album, because it’s not. Instead, I would posit it as one of the most authentic; not just of his career, but any that I’ve heard to date. This is how you let the pen bleed.
Written By: Paul Pennington