July 18, 1988 12:00 PM


Well-known record producers can’t seem to resist stepping out from behind the studio console to put out records of their own. So far this year, we’ve been treated to the orchestrated pablum of David Foster and the strange New Wave maunderings of Bill Laswell. With Divine Emotion, Narada Michael Walden, who has been getting deserved recognition for his production work for Whitney Houston, Aretha and others, makes a most respectable if unspectacular record. The reason it is at all successful is that Narada wields the most alluring and galvanizing production touch in pop music. He creates great, clear, spacious aural landscapes, like postcards from the Grand Canyon. He is unrivaled at generating dense, layered arrangements in which each element remains startlingly separate and crisp. Divine Emotion is full of good groove numbers, most of which Narada composed with writing partner Jeffrey Cohen. Songs like Can’t Get You Outta My Head and But What Up Doh! are models of full-bodied but brisk pop of the sort he lavished on Ms. Houston. The problem is that Whitney isn’t singing them and Narada is. While he has a presentable if not outstanding voice, he tends to be on the over baked and melodramatic side in his approach. He comes across better on the simpler, less demanding songs like That’s the Way I Feel About Cha’. And he certainly acquits himself on the ballad How Can I Make You Stay. Still, the best cut on the album is the brassy Earth Wind & Fire like instrumental We Still Have a Dream. It’s the only one on which he avoids the microphone and stays put behind the console. And that, after all, is where the true magic happens for Narada. (Reprise)

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