Three years after the brilliant For Lovers Only and two personnel changes, the Temptations dished out Phoenix Rising. Ali "Ollie" Woodson and Theo Peoples were replaced by Harry McGilberry and Barrington Scott Henderson. The album gets off to an excellent start with "Stay," a lilting, mid-tempo mood setter that samples the opening riffs of "My Girl"; the red-light special became their highest charting single in years. "How Could He Hurt You" is one of those good, questioning ballads that always finds a way into your heart. These new Temptations are all right, but none are comparable to the squalling Temptations' tenors of the past. Voices reaching the magnitude of David Ruffin's, Dennis Edwards', Ali Woodson's and Richard Street's are sorely missed. Otis Williams seems to have found his niche doing interludes between songs; it would be interesting to see if they would incorporate Williams' eloquent love talks into their stage act. Ron Tyson sings effortlessly in a honey-laden falsetto on "Tempt Me," which, other than "Stay," is the most arresting number here. Tyson displays his natural tenor before sliding into a sky-high falsetto, the backing voices are a thing of beauty as they weave in, out, and around Tyson's deft delivery, and the bass dots in and out placing exclamation points everywhere. "If I Give You My Heart" features a Williams rap and has a pop-ish beat; the tenor tries to cut loose but may have been restrained by producer Narada Michael Walden. When listening to "Take Me in Your Arms" it helps to imagine Ruffin, Edwards, or Woodson on lead. The mid-tempo songs, for the most part, outshine the ballads. "That's What Friends Are For" (not the Dionne Warwick song) has a deft, stepping beat but changes tempos on the chorus and becomes annoying until it gets back to that "Da, Da, Da" beat. The baritone voice on an occasional lead is sorely missed. Temptations' albums used to feature a baritone voice distinct from the tenor not only in register, but in style and phrasing; here the voices are too similar. Still, not a bad silver platter when you take the personnel changes into consideration.
Phoenix Rising Review
by Andrew Hamilton