I love the Temptations quite a bit, so I’m pretty excited to get to write about their stuff some more. Many people are probably pretty away of the legendary R&B vocal group’s history and their greatest hits at this point, so I won’t waste any unneeded details on this. Today’s single, though, does come at a point where many would consider the group to be at their creative peak, and certainly at their greatest commercial success. In 1972, they were hot off the trail of a series of top forty singles, including 1970’s “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion” and 1971’s “Just My Imagination”, all of these considered to be among the very best recordings of the era in its entirety. On the other hand, 1970 also found them losing longtime lead singers Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, who both left the group due to creative differences. Their subsequent studio album, Solid Rock, was the first to feature replacements Damon Harris and Richard Street; later in 1972, the group would prove to be fully capable of further success as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” became a worldwide smash and a US #1 hit.
“Take a Look Around” continues with the psychedelic stylings that the Temptations had mastered throughout the latter part of the 60s (which would cause a frustrated Kendricks to split from the group). Nonetheless, unlike the lengthy, textured, upbeat style of the cuts from Cloud Nine – such as “Runaway Child, Running Wild” and the title track – “Take a Look Around” is smoother, slower, and much more simpler. The cinematic soul quality of the group’s subsequent singles are lost here – instead, this is closer to something in the early prog rock vein. It’s still rather soulful, thanks to the contributions by the wonderful vocalists who demonstrate their talents very well – however, it’s less in the toe-tapping, finger-snapping way that they’ve mastered so well. Instead, the song begins with a lone harpsichord, and rarely gets more layered than a simple guitar and drums leading the song along. The feeling is much more mellow and certainly more stripped-down by producer Norman Whitfield’s standards, who in the past would opt for sprawling, minutes-long instrumental passages, unlike the brief sparsity of this recording that runs under the three-minute mark.
While I’m generally pretty on the fence with this interesting new direction taken by the group, I assuredly say that I am no big fan of the lyrics. The late 60s and early 70s gave us a bunch of socially conscious soul and R&B, with this falling neatly in line with the trend. However, this has none of the hard-hitting vigor found in their other socially conscious hits, like “Ball of Confusion” or “Runaway Child, Running Wild” – it’s far more based on imagery like “dirt on your face” and “junk man standing on the corner”, strung together with empty, vague phrases that don’t quite solidify into a cohesive dissertation. Everything about this, both sonically and lyrically, just sounds too Temptations lite for my own liking. Listening through a few more tracks from Solid Rock, it seems like everything else from this album follows along this same beat, making me even more certain that this will be one I will surely skip. At least the release of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” soon after this one assured us all that the Temptations still had it in them.