Soft Power

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The liner notes for Gonzales' first album on Polydor feature 1978 Grammy winners, a parade of artists including everyone from Billy Joel to the Bee Gees to Al Jarreau to Steve Martin. Obviously, they appear for a reason: it's easy to hear aspects of each of these characters on Soft Power -- not to mention the entire sound and feel of pop music in the late '70s and early '80s. Unpredictable as ever, Gonzales with Soft Power creates an immaculately produced period piece of piano-led pop. True, he often stretches too far, and the effect of the record is undercut by a couple of meandering instrumentals and under-written songs, but overall it's a vibrant piece of postmodern record-making. The opener, "Working Together," is light, catchy, and positively inspirational, a harbinger of what's on tap throughout the record: confessional and (virtually) sincere songwriting. "Slow Down" follows, and the message here too is apparent in the title. (The oozingly emotional saxophone solo may be where the sincerity begins to break down.) "Apology" is no different, with Gonzales singing a (mostly) tender mea culpa over a production that's practically unaccompanied except for his own piano. But of course, a Gonzales record is nothing if not fun. (Those who are fans of Billy Joel's The Stranger, which naturally includes Gonzales himself, could compare the divide here between the songs that are more like "Just the Way You Are" and the songs that are more like "Only the Good Die Young.") The synth strings and female harmonies on "Let's Ride" make it one of the best early-'80s house/R&B jams ever produced after the '80s actually ended, and the novelty bonus track "Fortunately, Unfortunately" is wittier than Gonzales has ever been in the past. It may be impossible to find the line between half-serious and half-joking for Gonzales -- more joking than Jamie Lidell, more serious than Flight of the Conchords -- but Soft Power puts the fun back into confessional songwriting.

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