Puzzle People

The Temptations

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Puzzle People Review

by Mark Deming

Both The Temptations and producer Norman Whitfield were at the top of their form with 1969's Puzzle People, which captures the group in the midst of their rock-influenced "socially conscious" period. While the lead-off cut, "I Can't Get Next To You", was a potent R&B dance-floor filler, elsewhere the album was dotted with "relevant" tunes such as "Message From A Black Man" (not nearly as militant as it sounds), "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down", and the "life-in-prison" epic "Slave", complete with plenty of fuzztone and wah-wah and enough panning to make George Clinton dizzy. But while the material and the production is a bit dated, Whitfield and his crew certainly caught The Funk Brothers on a great run when they cut these sessions, with the musicians blending the swagger and confidence of rock with a soundly funky undertow and chops to spare. And as for the Temptations themselves, if new lead vocalist Dennis Edwards lacked the elan of David Ruffin, he had power to spare, and the group's harmonies and shared vocals found room for both smooth precision and streetwise grit. While short on hits past the opening track (and padded with well-executed but hardly essential covers of "Hey Jude" and "Little Green Apples", Puzzle People is still the work of a great vocal group firing on all cylinders and getting inspired support in the studio, and it's one of the group's strongest late-60's efforts.

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