Cliff Richard

Soulicious

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Recorded in Memphis with Motown songwriting legend Lamont Dozier, Cliff Richard's first studio album since turning 70, Soulicious, may seem an unlikely new direction for a singer synonymous with old-fashioned rock & roll and schmaltzy Christmas ballads, but having previously released 1998's R&B-themed Real as I Wanna Be and singing duets with the likes of Janet Jackson and Dionne Warwick, it's not as radical a departure as you might think. Unfortunately, despite its credible behind the scenes team and an impressive guest list featuring some of the genre's greatest vocalists, the follow-up to his big-band effort, Bold as Brass, lacks the soul needed to justify its bombastic title. Indeed, having recruited the likes of Billy Paul, Candi Staton, and Percy Sledge, it's a shame that their legendary talents are wasted on karaoke renditions of Heatwave's "Always and Forever," Womack & Womack's "Teardrops," and James & Bobby Purify's "I'm Your Puppet," respectively, while it's hard to see where the likes of the driving pop/rock ballad "Saving a Life," the falsetto-led synth pop of "Every Piece of My Broken Heart," the completely unexpected Lady Gaga pastiche, "Don't Say You Love Me (It'll Ruin My Day)," and the acid house grooves on closer "Birds of a Feather" fit in with the soul music concept. However, there are several more encouraging results spread throughout these 15 tracks. The New Stylistics' collaboration "How We Get Down" echoes the smooth Philly soul of the original five-piece in their '70s heyday; "She Looked Good" is a toe-tapping slice of infectious, brass-fused, soul-pop featuring the uplifting harmonies of Dennis Edwards and the Temptations, while "Are U Feeling Me?" is a gentle, string-soaked ballad which recalls the glossy '80s soul of its featured vocalist, Deniece Williams. It's admirable that having entered his eighth decade, Richard is still willing to explore new avenues, but having assembled a roster of artists most soul aficionados could only dream of, Soulicious' lack of focus and disappointingly flat production means it's hard to shake the feeling that he's wasted his opportunity to add another string to his bow.

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