Smokey Robinson John Rockwell - Essay

John Rockwell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Smokey's Family Robinson is hardly a concept album in the more labored sense of the term. But it makes sense as a whole, the songs linked by musical style and thematic associations, flowing seamlessly together with thought paid to contrast and balance….

Smokey's Family Robinson might seem to be plunging headlong into disco, except that Robinson, with his patented, light-footed control, never sacrifices his own individuality and ends the album with two ballads that count among the finest things he's ever done….

Robinson's deepest gift has always lain in the sexually charged, achingly erotic love ballad…. Robinson's lyrics, in fast and slow songs alike, are almost invariably about love. Whether he is a "great poet" seems rather open to question, if poetry is the juxtaposition of words in a way that has interest in itself. Much of what Robinson writes mixes undeniable verbal freshness with an earnest yet somehow endearing awkwardness, replete with sincere homilies and labored metaphors. (p. 60)

Robinson's gift for quintessential make-out music is apparent throughout this album … but it blossoms in the last two songs, "Like Nobody Can" and "Castles Made of Sand."… [Both] are fine songs in themselves, with words that elevate clichés into verities and musical constructions that set his singing in an ideal context. (p. 62)

John Rockwell, "Smokey and Co. Second That Emotion," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1976; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 212, May 6, 1976, pp. 60, 62.