The Temptations

Masterpiece

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Norman Whitfield was always the Motown producer who had the most daring creative vision for The Temptations; he was the man who helped them turn psychedelic (well, sort of) with "Cloud Nine" and "Psychedelic Shack", and when the group's career had hit a slump in the early 1970's, he brought them back to the top of the charts with the brilliantly realized "Papa Was A Rolling Stone". After the latter tune had become a smash, Whitfield and The Temptations set out to make their most ambitious project to date, but in many ways, Masterpiece sounded more like a Norman Whitfield solo album with the Temps adding occasional vocals; the album's long, carefully layered tunes, complete with sweeping string charts and cleanly punctuated horn lines, have the widescreen splendor of a big-budget movie, and while it's inarguably impressive to hear, the featured artists often seem to be lost in the shuffle. It doesn't help that while the album is musically impressive, several of the songs are lyrically cut-rate, especially the cliche-ridden "Ma" and "Plastic Man", a ho-hum critique of hypocrisy, and while The Temptations deliver their material with conviction and typically peerless vocal skill, it's not enough to disguise the fact this album overshoots its target. While still better than the average Motown effort of the period, Masterpiece never quite becomes the triumph it obviously wants to be, proving once again that a "Masterpiece" usually occurs as a matter of serendipity rather than careful design.

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