Change ‘Reach for the Sky: The Anthology’ 2CD (Groove Line) 5/5

changeRewind to the very beginning of the 1980s and while the ‘Disco Sucks’ campaign had seriously undermined the dominance of dancefloor music in the pop charts at least (but never in the clubs themselves), a new Italo-American group emerged and, despite myriad groups changes to the vocalists, would lay down some glorious soulful disco groove. That group was Change and this anthology celebrates their output over virtually a decade. The prototype for Change was of course the Chic instrumental sound, yet even from the debut album, with the then lesser known Luther Vandross on lead, the group had established a distinctive voice. The extended 12″ of the album’s title track, ‘The glow of love’, is included here and never fails to impress. However, it was ‘A lover’s holiday’ that charted in the UK as well as being a disco number one smash. Arguably the strongest dance hit on the entire album was ‘Searching’ and Vandross laid down one of his most compelling vocals ever with the beefed up percussion making this sound quite different from the rest. If ‘The Glow of love’ well and truly established the group’s credentials, for this writer the strongest album of all was to follow with the 1981 release of ‘Miracles’. Luther Vandross’ departure to follow a solo career could have spelt the end for Change, but wisely they stuck to their guns and found a fine replacement in James Robinson who was his own man and no pale substitute for Luther. What really impresses on the second album is the quality of writing and execution on the songs that are equally adept in mid-tempo numbers as they are on the dancefloor. The title track belongs firmly in the former category and features a fabulous bassline complete with rhythm guitar right out of the Nile Rodgers school. Quite possibly, the strongest ever dance track they cut was ‘Heaven of my life’ and Robinson’s understated gospel-infused vocals makes this an absolute treat from start to finish. Strangely, it was never released as a single. Completing a trio of winners is the driving single, ‘Paradise’, which was a modest US R & B top ten hit, but failed to ignite in the pop charts. Sadly, the second album did not enjoy the same degree of success as the first and dance music instrumentation was changing rapidly with synth bass and the like holding sway. A third album, ‘Sharing your love’, appeared in 1982 and from this the very Chicesque, ‘Very best in you’, was released as a single and became a top thirty disco charter. It was somewhat out of kilter with the then current dancefloor sounds, but had it have been written earlier by Edwards and Rodgers, and received major promotion, might have prolonged Chic’s hit run. Included here is an alternate mix of ‘Keep on it’, while both ‘Sharing your love’ and ‘Promise your love’ were quality songs performed by a top-notch selection of studio musicians. If the group only waited another year before releasing, ‘This is your time’ (1983), this was stylistically a transitional time for the group and ‘Got to get up’, represented here in 12″ version, was an indication of change on the way. That said, ‘Don’t wait another night’ was a classic soulful song expertly delivered by James Robinson. Big-time success returned in 1984 with the release of ‘Change of Heart’ with the ace new production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis now in charge. They had overseen the SOS Band, Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal and Change were given a major musical makeover that brought the band right up to date and they enjoyed major chart success as a result and finally toured in the UK. If ‘Change of Heart’ was the single that delivered big-time and is included here in its extended 12″ version, soul fans went crazy for ‘You are my melody’ which was a prime contender for best new soul song of the year. New lead vocalist Rick Brennan and Deborah Cooper shared duties throughout. This writer was one of the lucky few to have witnessed them in live performance, with a one night performance at the legendary Haçienda in Manchester a major highlight. In spite of the magic created by the Jam-Lewis production team, this connection was not repeated and Change struggled with inferior attempts to replicate their sound. One exception to this was ‘Let’s go together’ from 1985 which represents something of a swan song for Change. A beautifully illustrated and extremely well annotated inner sleeve booklet leaves no stone unturned and this really is the only place to start if you wish to have a fully documented and authentic overview of the group’s career. Long overdue, but very welcome nevertheless.

Tim Stenhouse