Change - "The Glow of Love"

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Never sold on the soul audience's high regard for Luther Vandross' songwriting (Robert Christgau, at his succinct best, dismised most of it as "humdrum"), especially his ballads (the world needs more lachrymose-or-worse R&B ballads like it needs another set of New York scenesters grinding postpunk signifiers into clean rhythm guitar licks), I turn to "The Glow of Love," the 1980 hit he scored with Change, which he had no hand in writing or producing. A Chic song in all but name -- given Nile Rodgers and the late Bernard Edwards' reputation for parsimony when it came to clearing samples, it's odd they didn't blink when this stormed up the charts -- it conjures an evanescence as unforced as a winter morning observed over a postcoital cigarette. This is one of the rare songs that creates and sustains a state of grace. "The Glow of Love" flickers at the same temperature for most of its five minutes, in large part thanks to the interplay between the "Good Times" piano and the block chords played on an unobtrusive synth. And then Luther. How churlish my earlier criticism of Vandross' lack of vocal gravitas seems in this context. Who needs gravitas when you sound this alive, so there? Buoyant, creamy, ethereal, androgynous, he adds layers of subtext to the lyric "so new and true and gay," forging the link between agape and eros like Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" was just a schoolboy idyll on the bus home (it made perfect sense when wan Janet Jackson sampled this in "All For You"). In much the same way that Sir Bryan Ferry has chased the Mother of Pearl through the mists of Avalon for well over 30 years, Vandross' attempts in his own work to reproduce what he achieved on "The Glow of Love" are no less touching for being quixotic. He understood as early as 1980 that happiness is but a glow, a frisson, an experience forged from equal parts memory and imagination.