Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye stands as a testament to the theory that, no matter how sincere the sentiment or deserving the subject, tribute albums are always severely flawed records. Marvin Gaye is unquestionably one of the most important musicians of the post-war era. In addition to being a terrific vocalist and performer, he wrote a large number of songs that became pop/R&B classics. Several major-league stars (Stevie Wonder, Madonna with Massive Attack, Boyz II Men, Bono, Sounds of Blackness, Digable Planets, among others) reinterpret those songs on Inner City Blues, and the results are wildly uneven. Most of the tracks are simply too bland, relying heavily on the slick textures of '90s soul, not the smooth but palpably gritty styles of the '70s. Consequently most of these tracks simply pale in comparison to Gaye's originals, since they don't offer radically new interpretations or impressive performances. A few tracks stand out from the mire, particularly Madonna and Massive Attack's trip-hop re-interpretation of "I Want You," but most of the album blends together in an undistinguished haze.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine