It’s been quite a week. Between rehearsals for 4/26 at BAM with The Smyrk, a new Heavy English single, an even newer kitten and managing a restaurant, I am, in the words of Austin Powers, “spent.” As one of our fundamental measures of time, the Week, arguably more than the Day, is a constant reminder that we’re supposed to take Me time, which in this city manifests itself as Brunch and Booze more than anything else. I think Sports might be in there, too. My weekends used to be youth soccer and Hebrew school, but when you start playing shows or waiting tables (or both, as is often the case) the idea of the weekend dissipates and you discover that Prospect Park on a Monday afternoon is nice and quiet but that all those pizza joints you’re craving are closed. Like most things, it’s a tradeoff. For most, the Week is ironclad and then mimosa-soaked, but for me, this week was all about one record: Marvin Gaye’s 1972 Trouble Man soundtrack.
I have the 42-track edition, expanded from the original’s 13 songs with alternate takes and incidental tunes with names like “Bowling Alley Parking Lot” and “Crap Game (aka the Break In), Getting Rid of Body, Talking to Angel.” It’s a lot of music, mostly instrumental, which Gaye nestled between 1971’s What’s Going On and 1973’s Let’s Get It On. I first heard a version of the title track on 2001’s The Philadelphia Experiment, featuring Uri Caine, ?uestlove and Christian McBride, and heard Mos Def mention it on The Roots’ “Double Trouble.” I was familiar with the mystique, but ain’t nothin’ like the real thing.
This is Marvin Gaye the composer –the same Gaye aesthetic you hear on the lush vocal arrangements of 1978’s Here My Dear– with instrumentation that’s more relaxed, cinematic, warmer and crisper than similar soundtracks Superfly and Shaft. With its Hermannesque horns and piano, a song like “Poor Abbey Walsh” exists specifically within the narrative of the film - there’s no John Shaft pomp, instead there’s that elegiac falsetto that only Marvin Gaye could do. The sophistication is reminiscent of Morricone, Schifrin or even Mingus by the end credits, but the funk is all Marvin; even the alternate takes have their own swagger, the vocal fragments swaying like another piece of the orchestra (as on “‘T’ Stands for Trouble”).
Here’s “‘T’ Plays it Cool,” whose thematic drum fill alone could have gotten me through this week. As an r&b record produced like a film score, you can hear every detail:
I put this record on every morning this week. It centered me, inspired me and made me feel like wearing a polyester suit. Beneath the guise of blaxploitation, itself an exaggerated vehicle for disenfranchised cultural commentary, its melancholy feels very real - “there’s only three things that’s for sure / taxes, death and trouble.” It’s all about what you do with them (brunch excluded).
This album brought me to the conclusion that Marvin was a genius…and that was like 13 years ago when I first heard it. The deluxe edition further proved it.