This album shows the difference between highly competent musicianship and true inspiration, and what each can deliver. The group's weakest album to date, One Step Closer is only a failure in relative terms. At the outset of the group's shift toward a more soulful sound, it might have gotten by in much the same way that, say, the Bee Gees' Mr. Natural failed commercially but was given a "pass" by critics, their record label, and, perhaps most importantly, the band itself. But coming off of the multi-Grammy winning Minute by Minute, One Step Closer was a serious letdown, despite the presence of a modest hit in "Real Love" and platinum record award-level sales. The band seemed to lack sufficient new inspiration for a whole album, a fact emphasized by the near-complete withdrawal of Patrick Simmons as a songwriter -- his "No Stoppin' Us Now," co-authored with Michael McDonald and Christopher Thompson, is one of the better tracks and it's not remotely as strong as the output on earlier records. The title song, co-authored by Keith Knudsen and John McFee, is similarly a relatively uninspired successor to earlier compositions. McDonald is able to pick up some of the slack, along with saxman (and new member) Cornelius Bumpus, but overall the songs and the performances just don't measure up. It's more the quality of a set of demos in progress, and it was clear to all concerned that they were out of ideas. The Doobies spent the next two years touring and capitalizing on a decade's brilliant music-making before announcing their split.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder