Lionel Richie will never surprise you. His triumph has been his ability to turn conservative dependability into a commercial, and at times even an aesthetic, virtue. If he's rarely galvanizing, he's never less than accomplished, and Dancing on the Ceiling sets an impressive standard for mainstream pop craft in the Eighties.
Following the massively successful formula defined by 1983's Can't Slow Down, Dancing on the Ceiling assembles a tasteful sampler of established musical styles. Among the most satisfying of these are the insinuating reggae groove of "Se La" and the Marvin Gaye-in-spired Motown sensuality of "Don't Stop." On these tracks, Richie and coproducer James Anthony Carmichael blend elegant rhythmic and percussive figures with synthesizer atmospherics to create alluring, sonically complex musical statements. The gritty roots of these songs inspire Richie to give committed vocal performances, toughening his phrasing and roughening the grain in his voice's timbre.
The title track flashes Richie's signature buppie funk, and "Love Will Conquer All" is a smart, bouncy pop duet with Marva King. The LP's two modest stretches are "Tonight Will Be Alright," a polished heartland rocker that features Eric Clapton's stinging guitar, and "Deep River Woman," an easy-listening country ballad on which Alabama provides rich background vocals. "Ballerina Girl," unfortunately, provides a virtual anthology of Richie's worst saccharine excesses.
Richie's musical brilliance, however, reveals itself on "Say You, Say Me," the bracing, Beatlesque pop classic that closes the album. That song's stirring arrangement, affirmative message and gentle expansiveness embody Richie's finest qualities qualities in abundant supply on Dancing on the Ceiling. (RS 486)
(Posted: Nov 6, 1986)
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