Isley Brothers ‘Between the Sheets’ (BBR) 4/5

BetweenSheetsAlbumCoverBy the early 1980s the Isley Brothers had firmly established themselves as one of the greatest of soul-funk groups of all time and their albums from throughout the 1970s were of a consistently high quality. During the same period, however, production sound, had changed significantly with the introduction of a more layered synthesizer and electronic drum beats texture, and a new challenge was thus posed to the musical establishment. Marvin Gaye responded magnificently with a career resurrecting hit single in ‘Sexual Healing’ and ‘Between the Sheets’ should be viewed in a similar light as a modern update on their immediately distinctive sound, though on this particular outing the funk quota is placed on the back burner. The Isleys have always been famed for their stunning ballads and for this 1983 recording, decided that the whole of side one on the original vinyl should be devoted to balladry. What might have been a risky selection for some proved instead to be an inspired choice for the Isley Brothers and as a result they enjoyed a number one R & B album and a top ten R & B single hit with the superlative ‘Choosey Lover’. It features a classic Isley Brothers guitar intro with only pared down machine drums to accompany and then the trademark falsetto vocals of Ernie Isley enter to glorious background vocal harmony accompaniment. This rates among their very finest ballad songs. The title track was part inspired by Ernie Isley watching a Chanel number five advert on television minus the sound and then concocting his own musical vision of what the musical soundtrack might be in his head, and it is another winner. In a slightly more uptempo vein, ‘I need your body’ echoes the instrumentation of Mtume’s ‘Juicy Fruit’ that was an early 1980s hit while ‘Let’s make love tonight’ is a quality mid-tempo love ballad. Social commentary on the family was the subject of the rock-tinged ‘Ballad for the fallen soldier’ that was the one departure from the rest of the album. For another classy ballad, ‘Touch me’ is in a similar vein to their 1970s opus ‘Hello, it’s me’ and features atmospheric inducing sparse instrumentation. This was arguably among the last of the consistently strong Isley Brothers albums, though some might justifiably dispute that with the Isley Jasper Isley offering from a year or so later that remains a real favourite among the fans. Five bonus cuts on the current re-issue include four instrumental versions of the singles plus a 45 version of the title track.

Tim Stenhouse