06 December 2014

The Temptations Give Love at Christmas

The Temptations’ Give Love at Christmas Sets the Mellow Mood
By Kristin Battestella

The longstanding Motown quintet The Temptations adds a different kind of soul to the season with their 1980 album Give Love at Christmas. While there are a few hiccups, this remains a sophisticated listen for old school fans or adults seeking a certain candlelight and Christmas mood.

Give Love on Christmas Day is a tad dated and somewhat generic to start Give Love at Christmas – it just doesn’t really sound like a December ode. Fortunately, it is a well belted standard in proper Temptations fashion, and there is a nice sentiment about what people really ought to do by giving of themselves instead of wasting the holiday on something more fleeting like shopping. Repeating from their 1970 The Temptations’ Christmas Card, The Christmas Song is updated here with a new swanky and indeed tempting spin on the traditional Torme staple. Fun, down deep bass ad-libs mix with the seasonal lyrics, combing the R&B and the easy holiday listening perfectly. This is, however, an oddly placed somber stuck between Give Love on Christmas Day and Love Comes at Christmas, which with its seasonal generosity in full swing, feels like a sequel to the first track. Are these two so similar merriment tunes a bit too interchangeable? Perhaps, but we can forgive The Temptations because they both sound so sweet. 

A previous version of The Little Drummer Boy appears on The Temptations Christmas Card as well, but this redo for Give Love at Christmas has some sort of funk beat and disco groove littering the composition. I would have loved to hear just the melodic harmonizing and vocal magic only The Temptations can provide, but unfortunately, I’m not really sure what they were trying to do with this rendition. Since this is a carol we don’t hear that often, this unusual attempt probably gets a pass. However, this was definitely a missed opportunity for some of the few singers who could have really done something special with this innocent tale – instead of, you know, bell bottoming it up. Thankfully, This Christmas remains the standout here with a focused, suave delivery brimming of seasonal merriment and holiday romance amid the titular refrains. Give Love at Christmas is actually a very mature session, seemingly groovy for the kid’s ears but unabashedly sublime in its adult sounds of the season. Again, a pleasingly smooth sentiment to hear in a year-end quarter increasingly focused on the money making juvenile aspects of Christmas. 

Likewise, Everything for Christmas slows down Give Love at Christmas with sexy talk of caviar, cherries, and champagne. Yes, it is a little more of the same with three romantic December tunes taking up precious time where only one was needed in a short, 34 minute album. Luckily, The Temptations know not to fix what isn’t broken, and they are so great at this seasonal dinner for two soundtrack. Christmas Everyday is another track strangely placed between the cocktails and the soft finale. This bemusing bass and mini rock out might have been better served by pairing the two faster songs together and thus leaving the overall slow, smooth sentiments uninterrupted. The Silent Night finale – again a do over from Christmas Card – has a little bit of everything from a hint of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and verses of peace and well wishes to a lush, traditional lead, sweet bass, and perfect harmonies. Obviously, Give Love at Christmas is a secularly designed album, but it’s nice to hear Jesus mentioned once or twice on a Christmas album. Some bigger holiday staples can be found on The Temptations Christmas Card, but I don’t know why they would chose to redo songs already there before giving us more full on glorious carols Temptations style.

Give Love at Christmas doesn’t have the line up from The Temptations’ 1964-71 heights, which may automatically put off some listeners who think this is an in name only, washed up release, and this late seventies infusion may also be too dated for younger audiences compared to such a timeless heyday. However, original member still going strong Otis Williams, late bass Melvin Franklin, tenor Glenn Leonard, baritone Richard Street, and the returned Dennis Edwards are all here. Of course, it took some digging to find out exactly which Temptations are part of Give Love at Christmas – the fine print on the CD jacket is very small! Fortunately, the seasonal feelings, recognizable Temptations sound, and some Motown fun keep Give Love at Christmas a pleasing listen for a couple’s night in or trimming the tree with the whole family – so long as the kids don’t pick up on the whiff of soul saucy! 

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