Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On [Tamla, 1971]
This may be a groundbreaking personal statement, but like any Berry Gordy quickie it's baited skimpily: only three great tunes. "What's Going On," "Inner City Blues," and "Mercy, Mercy Me (the Ecology)" are so original they reveal ordinary Motown-political as the benign market manipulation it is. And Gaye keeps getting more subtle vocally and rhythmically. But the rest is pretty murky even when the lyrical ideas are good--I like the words on "What's Happenin' Brother" and "Flyin' High (in the Friendly Sky)" quite a bit--and the religious songs that bear Gaye's real message are suitably shapeless. Worst of all, because they're used a lot, are David Van De Pitte's strings, the lowest kind of movie-background dreck. B+