ENCHANTMENT-UTOPIA.

ENCHANTMENT-UTOPIA.

Enchantment’s sixth album Utopia, may not have resulted in Enchantment heading off in pursuit of Sir Thomas More’s mythical and idealized island, but it did mark a change in the lives and music of the veteran band. They maybe never knew it when they began recording Utopia, but seventeen years after they were formed in Detroit, Michigan: “the end was near” for Enchantment. To quote the Chairman Of The Board, Enchantment were about to: “face the final curtain.” Considering all they’d been through, they’d lasted well. Any groups that survives seventeen years together, releases five albums, and in the process, only loses one member and one manager have been doing something right. They had been early on in their career. 

Their first two albums, 1976s Enchantment and 1977s Once Upon A Dream were certified gold. Commercial success and critical acclaim came the way of Enchantment. As the song says: “nothing last forever,” Enchantment released three further albums, but never enjoyed the same commercial success. Even when Bobby Green replaced Carl Cotton in 1980, the commercial success and critical acclaim Enchantment had enjoyed never returned. Maybe the problem was Enchantment hadn’t kept up with musical fashions? 

Realizing that they were behind the musical curve, Enchantment decided to change tact musically. So, in 1983, when Enchantment headed into the recording studio to record Utopia, which was recently released by BBR Records, they decided to innovate. The idea was, that through innovation, Enchantment would become relevant musically, and a commercially success. This was the last throw of the dice for Enchantment. Utopia was aptly titled. What Enchantment were searching for was just as elusive as Utopia…commercial success. Did Enchantment find Utopia?

Utopia consisted of nine tracks, six of which Michael Stokes cowrote. The most prolific songwriting partnership was the Stones and Stones, who cowrote Get It While It’s Hot. They cowrote three other tracks with various songwriting partners. This included Could Be My Lover, Somebody’s Loving You and Here’s Your Chance with lead vocalist Emanuel Johnson, who penned I’m Dreaming and Gotta Find A Love. Having more that one talented songwriter in Enchantment set them apart from their rivals. Emanuel Johnson and Michael Stokes, who it had numerous songwriting partners, had been responsible for so many of Enchantment’s best songs. That’s why Enchantment had two gold discs. That seemed a long time ago. WIth Utopia written, Enchantment headed into the studio.

Accompanied by a rhythm section of James Gadson and Mike Baird, bassist Eddie Watkins and Freddie Washington plus guitarist Charles J. Fearing. Michael Stokes, Clarence McDonald and Wayne Lindsay played piano, Gary Coleman and Carl Small percussion while John Barnes, Michael Stokes and Dave Erwing played synths. Producing the “new” Enchantment which featured on Utopia was Michael Stoker.

Before the release of Utopia, Here’s Your Chance was released as a single in November 1982. It failed to chart. This wasn’t a good start. When Utopia was released in December 1982, it stalled at number sixty-three in the US R&B Charts. The second single, Don’t Fight The Feeling was released in January 1984 at number sixty-four in the US R&B Charts.

From the opening bars of Give It Up, which opens Utopia, you realize this is a very different side of Enchantment you’re hearing. The music is tougher, funkier and reliant on synths. Emanuel and David take charge of the vocal on this boogie track. As the vocal changes hands, urgent harmonies sweep in. Ever-present are eighties synths and an uber funky rhythm section. Mixing funk, eighties electronica, soul and synth pop, Enchantment show another side to their music. While not quite revolution, it’s certainly evolution.

Come Be My Lover has dramatic, near space-age synth sound. Primarily, that’s the result of the banks of synths that dominate the arrangement. This is an unlikely homage to the pursuit of love. Maybe a homage to 22nd Century romance, but not like romance as we know it. Bristling with energy, Emanuel delivers a sassy vocal, while drums pound and dramatically, harmonies respond to his call. Compelling and enthralling, it’s hard to believe this track is thirty years old.

Love Struck sees a change of style. This Sam Dees and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey is  Utopia’s highlight. It’s like Philly Soul with an eighties makeover. A drum machine provides the heartbeat, synthetic strings and keyboards accompany Emanuel’s heartfelt, impassioned and lovestruck vocal. Tight, soulful harmonies drift in and out, while a deliberate keyboard helps anchor this beautiful ballad. Add to that the bells that ring joyously, and this is what Enchantment do so well.

Here’s Your Chance sees Enchantment find inspiration from a fusion of eighties electronica, P-funk and synth pop. They don’t throw out their trademark soulfulness, thankfully. While synths beep and buzz, percussion is ever-present. Enchantment’s harmonies are equally potent and soulful. Urgent and tight, they have a similar energy as the rest of arrangement. Dance-floor friendly and dramatic this track was far too innovative. It was way ahead of its time musically. This was Daft Punk way before they discovered a vocoder and dawned a ridiculous helmet. Maybe, the problem was, people neither understood nor appreciated this track. 

Don’t Fight The Feeling sees Enchantment return to their trademark balladry. While synths sweep, drums crack and percussion punctuates the arrangement. As harmonies sweep in, tight, soulful and heartfelt, Enchantment are on familiar territory. Jobie’s vocal is tender, soothing and sympathetic. Urging, pleading and promising, he asks  his girlfriend: “to give love one more try.”Harmonies sweep in, trying to help mend her broken heart. Strings sweep, their lush sound at one with the harmonies that drift in. Jobie pleads and begs, desperation filling his vocal as he asks: “Don’t Fight The Feeling,“ resulting in a bedroom ballad par excellence.

Following such a beautiful track isn’t easy. So Enchantment change tact with Somebody’s Loving You. Still it’s a romantic track, filled with emotion and sensuality, but with a faster, electronic arrangement. Pounding electronic drums, synths and chiming guitars combine as Emanuel delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of power, passion and emotion. Heavy in poppy hooks, with their Enchantment’s trademark harmonies, it’s a sweet and soulful.

I’m Dreaming written by Emanuel Johnson, is another ballad. Again, this is another example of what Enchantment do so well. With percussion, synths and drums combining with tight, sweeping harmonies, the stage is set for Emanuel. He doesn’t disappoint. Knowing love is out of reach,his vocal is wistful, tinged with regret, but grateful that friendship for the friendship he’ll always have. Laying bare his soul, Emanuel, breathes emotion, meaning into some articulate and intelligent lyrics, that many people will be able to relate to.

Get It While It’s Hot has busy, dramatic introduction. It’s as if something special is about to unfold. You feel a musical epic is about to reveal its secrets. Just then, the song bursts into life. Synths, swirling strings, thunderous drums and funky bass combine with a sassy vocal. The vocal veers between a sassy snarl, playful and tender. Harmonies accompany him, drifting in and out, while strings dance and provide a contrast to the electronic arrangement. The result is a track that’s slick, catchy and poppy.

Closing Utopia is Gotta Find Love. Given Utopia proved to be Enchantment’s farewell album, it’s fitting this is a ballad. Slow, understated and beautiful, the arrangement doesn’t rely as heavily on synths and drum machines. That’s no bad thing, given the song. This much more subtle arrangement allows impassioned Emanuel’s vocal to take centre-stage. Cooing harmonies provide the perfect foil for his tender, heartfelt vocal, which plays its part in a fitting, poignant finale to Enchantment’s career.

Utopia is a compelling album where two sides of Enchantment fight for your attention. The first side is “new” Enchantment, where synths and drum machines play their part in songs that are an amalgamation of P-funk, eighties electronic, synth pop and boogie. The songs have a harder, funkier edge. They’re edgier and quite unlike what you’d expect of Enchantment. This was their attempt to stay relevant musically. They were into their third decade together and had seen musical genres come and go. While the style of music that made them famous wasn’t as fashionable, such a radical change could’ve, and maybe did, alienate fans. 

Possibly, many of Enchantment’s loyal fans weren’t prepared for the new direction Utopia saw Enchantment heading. To many of their fans won over by their soulfulness, was akin to revolution. Of these tracks, Here’s Your Chance was the most innovative. Thirty years later, music like this timeless track sees an artist hailed as a genius. Enchantment were doing this thirty years ago. While Utopia was meant to win over a new generation of fans, it maybe alienated older, loyal fans. At least older fans could revel in Enchantment’s balladry.

Ballads were what Enchantment did so well. On Utopia, the ballads are the best tracks. Love Struck, Don’t Fight This Feeling, I’m Dreaming and Gotta Find Love are vintage Enchantment. That sees the members of Enchantment utilize their combined talents. The lead vocal and harmonies are the equivalent of musical ying and yang. If you listen to the vocal on Somebody’s Loving You, which combines the two sides of Enchantment, it’s the vocal and harmonies that shine through. Ballads are what made Enchantment commercially successful and critically acclaimed. So it’s no surprise that the ballads are the highlights of Utopia. 

Listening to Utopia with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder whether Utopia should’ve been an album celebrating the old and new? For the ballads, record them in the old school way. No synths or drum machines. Instead, real instruments. A proper string section and drums and bass that graced seventies soul albums. That would be side one, so it would attract the attention of old fans. Side two would see “new” Enchantment, with their synths and drum machines. Marketed as The Two Sides Of Enchantment, rather than Utopia, this may have attracted a wider audience? 

Having said that, Utopia, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, is a compelling and eclectic album. Bravely, Enchantment decided to be bold and innovate. To some extent, this paid off. Reaching number sixty-three in the US R&B Charts, what proved to be Enchantment’s musical finale, Utopia, was a commercial success. While Utopia didn’t replicate the success of Enchantment or Once Upon A Dream, it proved that after seventeen years together, Enchantment, unlike other bands, were still musically relevant. Standout Tracks: Love Struck, Don’t Fight This Feeling, I’m Dreaming and Gotta Find Love.

ENCHANTMENT-UTOPIA.

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