ROSE ROYCE-STRONGER THAN EVER.
ROSE ROYCE-STRONGER THAN EVER.
From the release of their debut single and album Car Wash in 1976, Rose Royce were one of the most successful groups of the mid-seventies through to the early eighties. Their first three albums Car Wash, 1977s Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom and Rose Royce III: Strikes Again released in 1978 were all certified platinum, selling over a million copies. After their fourth album, 1979s Rose Royce IV: Rainbow Connection interrupted their run of million selling albums, Rose Royce continued releasing quality music into the early eighties. This included 1982 Stronger Than Ever, which was remastered and rereleased by BBR Records on 20 February 2012. Stronger Than Ever was Rose Royce’s first and only album for Epic Records, after leaving Whitfield Records, owned by their producer Norman Whitfield. However, although they’d left Whitfield Records, Norman Whitfield was still producing their albums, helping Rose Royce to produce their own brand of soulful, funky music, music that lit up dance-floors since their debut single Car Wash in 1976.
Stronger Than Ever was Rose Royce’s seventh album in seven years, and final album for a major label. It was recorded at the Fort Knox Recording Studio in Los Angeles. As usual, Norman Whitfield was producing the album, hoping to turn round the group’s fortunes. Ever since their fourth album, Rose Royce IV: Rainbow Connection, Rose Royce’s popularity had declined. What didn’t help matters was, Gwen Dickey had left the band after Rose Royce IV: Rainbow Connection. She was replaced by Ricci Benson. Since Ricci joined the group, their albums hadn’t been commercially successful. 1981s Golden Touch reached number 160 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Jump Street, Rose Royce’s previous album, released in 1982, only reached number 210 and failed to enter the US R&B Charts. That’s why both Rose Royce and Norman Whitfield were so keen to see an upturn in the group’s fortunes. Even though the music was still good, it wasn’t selling in great numbers. Would Stronger Than Ever see an improvement in Rose Royce’s fortunes?
Rose Royce recorded the eight tracks that became Stronger Than Ever at the Fort Knox Recording Studio in Los Angeles. Of these eight tracks, vocalist Kenny Copeland and keyboard player Michael Nash cowrote two songs, Still In Love and Talk To Me. They also cowrote two other tracks Dance With Me with Randy Thomas and You Blew It with Linda Thomson. Producer Norman Whitfield also contributed two tracks, Sometimesy Lady and Fire In the Funk. With Stronger Than Ever recorded, the album was scheduled for release in May of 1982. Would Stronger Than Ever improve on their previous album Jump Street?
Before Stronger Than Ever was released, Best Love was released as the first single from the album. It only reached number sixty-four in the US R&B Charts, which seems strange given the quality of the single. When Stronger Than Ever was released in May 1982, it too, reached number 210 in the US Billboard 200, but reached number fifty in the US R&B Charts. This was an improvement on 1981s Jump Street, but again, given how strong the material on Stronger Than Ever was, the album should’ve fared much better. The second and final single released from the album was Still In Love, which failed to even chart. However, listening to Stronger Than Ever I think that it’s an album that should’ve been a much bigger commercially, given the standard of music on the album. I’ll now tell why I think that’s the case.
Stronger Than Ever opens Dance With Me, which was produced by Kenny Copeland. It’s just the sound of drums that open the track, before a funky sounding track quickly, reveals itself. With a funky rhythm section, squelchy synths and what sounds like a party taking place in the studio, Ricci Benson’s vocal enters. Straight away, you’re struck by the quality of her sassy, confident vocal. Meanwhile, blazing horns, chiming guitars and backing vocalists accompany the funk drenched rhythm section and synths. Rasping horns punctate the arrangement, while a deep backing vocal and keyboards all combine with Ricci’s vocal to give the track a hugely catchy, funk laden sound, that gets the album of to a great start.
Very different in sound and style, is Norman Whitfield’s beautiful, but wistful ballad Sometimesy Lady. Kenny Copeland delivers the vocal against a backdrop of a gentle piano and lush, sad strings. There’s a tenderness and unhappiness in his vocal, due to the “love games” his partner plays, meaning he never knows where he stands. Although his vocal is subtle, full of sadness, it grows in power and frustration, accompanied by backing vocalists and melancholy strings. This gets across the sadness and emotion of the lyrics. What I really like about this track is the simplicity of the arrangement. It’s just the piano and strings accompanying Kenny’s vocal, allowing you to focus on his vocal, while the piano and strings add to the sadness and wistfulness of the lyrics. Truly it’s a beautiful but sad song, demonstrating that quality and standard of Rose Royce’s music.
Best Love was the first single released from Stronger Than Ever, and is a track that deserved to do much better than the number sixty-four it reached in the US R&B Charts. This is a track that was popular in UK clubs and disco during the early eighties and I can see why, given its stirring, uplifting sound. The track is driven along by the rhythm section, while cascading, lush strings and synths augment the arrangement. Meanwhile, Ricci gives one of her best vocals on the album. Her delivery is strong, emotive and ballsy, while the contrasting sound of drums, synths and quivering strings provide a backdrop for her vocal. Why such an uplifting, energetic and hook laden track didn’t do much better seems almost unjust, given how great a track this is. For me, this is one of the highlights of Stronger Than Ever.
While Best Love was the first single released from Stronger Than Ever, Still In Love was the second. Although it has a quite different sound, it has one thing in common with Best Love…quality. The track has an understated sound when it opens, just strings, flourishes of synths and gentle percussion. This gives way to drums, cascading, swirling strings and piano, while the rhythm section sprinkle some funk to an arrangement that has a lush sound. Then, when Ricci’s vocal enters it’s strong, laden with emotion, as strings swirl behind her. Meanwhile, the piano drops in and out of the track, while the rhythm section drive the track along. Ricci’s vocal soars, reminding me somewhat of Chaka Khan, while the strings have an orchestral sound. With it’s combination of lush strings, Ricci’s emotional vocal and Michael Nash’s potent production this is a stunning track, that should’ve been a huge hit single thirty years ago in 1982.
You Blew It is another track produced by Michael Nash, and is another track where Ricci Benson delivers an emotive, powerful vocal. From the opening bars, you realize that something special is about to unfold. Pounding drums, bursts of synths and cymbals, give way to a funky bass and chiming guitars. When Ricci’s vocal enters, it’s gentle, but full of emotion. Quickly, her voice grows in power, as the arrangement grows in power and drama. While Ricci’s vocal is soulful, the rhythm section combine funk and soul, before a sizzling rocky sounding guitar solo is unleashed. When this is combined with the drums and then replaced by the bass and vocal, it’s really effective. This is another track that demonstrates Ricci Benson’s talent as a vocalists, and just how talented a group of musicians Rose Royce were.
When Somehow We Made It Through the Rain opens, you’re greeted by a cloudburst, which is replaced by a beautiful understated arrangement, accompanied by a tender, beautiful from Ricci. Lush strings, a subtle rhythm section and brief bursts of horns are augmented by soaring backing vocalists. Later, Kenny Copeland sings the song as a duet with Ricci, their voices complimenting the other, as they sing about how their love has lasted, almost against all odds. Their voices are enveloped in swathes of beautiful strings, which are just the final touch to this gorgeous love song.
After a gorgeous love song, comes the funkiest track on Stronger Than Ever, Fire In the Funk, the only track produced by Norman Whitfield alone. It’s a searing, sizzling slice of funk, with Kenny Copeland delivering the lead vocal, while blazing horns punctuate the track, and percussion and a funk drenched rhythm section combine. With fast chiming guitars, it’s a track totally unlike anything on the album, but one with a real “Norman Whitfield” sound. Remember, he’s the man who produced the Temptations psychedelic albums where they combine soul and funk. Even Kenny’s vocal is delivered in a very different style, while the myriad of keyboards, percussion, rhythm section and guitars combine to produce an irresistible, sizzling slice of the funkiest music.
To close Stronger Than Ever, Rose Royce deliver another funky track, Talk To Me. It’s a track with a sound that reminds me of Earth, Wind and Fire, with the vocal even reminding me of Maurice White. The track is full of bravado, with braying horns, percussion, a loping, funky bass line and sizzling guitar accompanying pounding, punchy drums. Here, Rose Royce swagger their way through the track, proving there’s much more to their music than soul and disco, with them able to funk it up like the best of them. Kenny’s vocal is sassy, confident while around him, the band deliver a funk masterclass. This they do with aplomb, on a fantastically, funky track that closes Stronger Than Ever.
Although Stronger Than Ever was released at a time when Rose Royce’s popularity was in decline, it provided them with a brief upturn in their fortunes. While reaching number 210 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifty in the US R&B Charts, was a long way from their first three albums, Stronger Than Ever was an album that deserved to do much better, given the standard of music on the album. There isn’t a poor track on the album, with two beautiful ballads in Sometimesy Lady and Somehow We Made It Through the Rain, sitting comfortably next to the uplifting, emotive sound of the singles Best Love and Still In Love. To me, they’re two of the highlights of Stronger Than Ever. That’s not forgetting the trio of funky tracks Dance With Me, Fire In the Funk and Talk To Me. As if that’s not enough, BBR Records remastered rerelease of Stronger Than Ever features four bonus tracks. These are the single versions of Best Love, Still In Love and Fire In the Funk and the twelve inch version of Best Love. The sound quality of BBR’s remaster is stunning, while L. Michael Gipson’s sleeve-notes are in-depth and informative, giving you a flavor of Rose Royce’s career. Overall, Stronger Than Ever is an excellent album, one that features some fantastic, quality music from one of the biggest bands of the mid to late seventies. This rerelease of Stronger Than Ever, by BBR Records, gives you the opportunity to rediscover the last great album from Rose Royce. Standout Tracks: Sometimesy Lady, Best Love, Stronger Than Ever and Somehow We Made It Through the Rain.
ROSE ROYCE-STRONGER THAN EVER.