Luther Vandross

Your Secret Love

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Luther Vandross' tenth new studio album has much in common with its predecessors. It is filled with midtempo love ballads in which Vandross emotes over tasteful R&B gospel arrangements, mostly writing his own songs, but also finding room for a couple of pop favorites -- in this case, Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet" and the old Little Anthony and the Imperials hit "Goin' Out of My Head." As steeped as he is in the nomenclature of R&B vocal expressionism, Vandross as usual sounds more self-involved than romantically devoted. His references have always seemed not so much real emotions as other love songs, which makes him something of an anomaly: a formalist in a field at least nominally defined by excess of feeling. Of course, that's always been something of a conceit, which may be why the traditional R&B audience faithfully takes Vandross to its bosom each time out, while his relationship to the pop audience, after a flirtation in the early '90s, remains largely unconsummated. He may profess "Endless Love," but pop fans are only willing to believe him when he's singing with a diva like Mariah Carey. Give Vandross credit, he wants to be taken on his own terms, which is why he released his own songs, the title track and "I Can Make It Better," as the singles instead of going for a trendy R&B hit with "I Can't Wait No Longer (Let's Do This)," which features a rap by Deidra "Spin" Roper of Salt-N-Pepa, or trying to make "Goin' Out of My Head" a pop hit for the third time. Such integrity is probably what kept the album from selling beyond Vandross' existing fan base; lucky for him, there were a million of them.

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