Hot on the Tracks/In the Pocket

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Motown's series of Commodores two-fers paired Hot on the Tracks with In the Pocket and, in doing so, spanned a rather drastic breach in the group's evolution. Lionel Richie and company had recorded Hot on the Tracks just as they were hitting their stride in the mid-'70s, fresh off the burgeoning, yet still relatively modest, success of Caught in the Act and Movin' On. It's an excellent album, surely one of the group's best. On the other hand, the Commodores had recorded In the Pocket in 1981, after five steady years of chart-topping quiet storm ballads and a gradual shift from loose funk to stiff disco. Furthermore, by the time the Commodores recorded In the Pocket, Richie had become the group's de facto hitmaker and was on the brink of jumping ship for an incredibly popular solo career. The group chemistry that had made Hot on the Tracks so exciting -- resulting in great songs like "Let's Get Started," "Girl, I Think the World About You," "High on Sunshine," "Just to Be Close to You," and "Fancy Dancer" -- was sorely missing, displaced by an air of professional studiocraft. For instance, while the bandmembers had previously written the majority of their own songs, they relied largely on outsourcing for In the Pocket. Of course, that outsourcing resulted in one of their greatest steppers cuts, "Lady," but it also resulted in a lot of schlock. Not even the obligatory Richie ballad, "Oh No," could do much to salvage the otherwise spotty and categorical album. So, listening to the excellent Hot on the Tracks and the ramshackle In the Pocket side by side is a bit jarring. The juxtaposition is really notable, and quite curious.