?uestlove Presents Babies Makin’ Babies 2: Misery Strikes Back... No More Babies
hmir "?uestlove" Thompson, erstwhile drummer and ringleader of Philly hip-hop collective The Roots, is a man of a great many talents—between producing records, making them, drumming on them, and spinning them across the globe, he's taken the time to release a sequel to his outstanding make-out collection from 2002, Babies Makin' Babies. On that disc, overplayed classics like "Quiet Storm" and "That's What Friends are For" rubbed shoulders with overlooked album cuts like EWF's "Clover" and Bill Withers' "Can We Pretend" (from the shamefully out-of-print 'Justments LP), alongside proto-smooth jazz from the likes of Patrice Rushen and Gino Vannelli. As a whole, the first installment of Babies Makin' Babies lived up to its billing, creating steamy bedroom atmospheres that offered the promise of intimacy and ecstasy—a welcome antidote for those tired of the "after the after-party / It's the hotel lobby" school of R&B dominant today.
As great as the original was, a volume 2 is about the last thing I would have expected. No, scratch that. A volume 2 of bad, sad, and mad love songs is the last thing I would have expected. Apparently something's gone very awry in our man's love life. Or maybe the results from the bizarro pro-population increase questionnaire/manifesto included with the first volume finally came in. Whatever the case, his loss is our gain, since this puppy manages to be even more essential than its predecessor—although I don't recommend trying to get it on with this playing in the background, unless you like a heavy dose of salt mixed in with your sweet.
With the exception of Al Green's "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" and the Delfonics "I'm Sorry," hardly anything on Babies Makin' Babies 2 approached hit status. The overall sound is a bit less diverse than its predecessor, too, with very few nods (The Blackbyrds and Natalie Cole excepted) to the jazz that ran throughout the first volume. However, this leaves Questo free to focus on heartbreaking soul ballads and tragic tales of love gone wrong, which he does with impeccable taste. The album begins with the Ohio Players' "Our Love Has Died," a song which takes its own title in a brutally literal fashion—"we buried our love six feet down, but no mourners came around," and one which deserves to be placed amongst the Players' oft-neglected canon of classic slow jams. The orchestral meditation of the Blackbyrds "Mother/Son Bedroom Talk" makes way for highlight number two, courtesy of Betty "formerly Mrs. Miles" Davis. With her three albums living in $20+ import land, Betty Davis is still remembered as the woman who turned Miles from monkey-suited nightclub act into spaceman goggle-wearing super-freak rather than as a groundbreaking musician in her own right. The inclusion of her relentlessly funky, woman-on-top "Anti-Love Song" here is worth the price of admission itself.
DJ Rogers' "If You Didn't Love Me" is a bit of an oddity—an early Linn Drum beat running behind an archetypical 70's groove. It's an intriguing cut, and one well worth hearing, but between the Betty Davis song and Al Green's thunderstorm-in-a-teacup "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," it's a bit of a dip in energy. Then again, this may just be ?uestlove's intent, for throughout the rest of the disc tempestuously emotional cuts alternate with slightly more staid lovelorn ballads. Syreeta's painful/joyous orchestral soundscape "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" (produced by soon-to-be ex-lover Stevie Wonder) and Natalie Cole's torch song-from-Hell version of "Good Morning Heartache" both dig deep into the psyche of the broken-hearted, while the Delfonics "I'm Sorry" and Jermaine Jackson's Stevie-lite "You're Supposed to Keep Your Love From Me" tread much more easily on the bruised emotions of thwarted lovers.
Too often, early soul compilations fall into the easy trap of rarity for rarity's sake, but Babies Makin' Babies 2 avoids that snare by focusing on the feeling of the songs rather than their appeal to collectors. One of my favorite concepts for an R&B record came on the otherwise fairly forgettable album Headlights, by the Whispers. With one side devoted to "Dancin'" and the other to "Romancin'," the typical soul LP conundrum of funk cuts alternating with bedroom burners was handily avoided. Volumes one and two of Babies Makin' Babies give us a nice variation on that idea, although it's more like "Datin'" and "Hatin'" in this case. The focus on love-gone-wrong narratives gives the album a final third that does tend to drag a bit, however. Now, were I at the end of my romantic rope, I might hang on every tearstained letter, but as it is I long for something with a little more spunk to liven things up. Thankfully, we end on a note which, while it might not be happy, is at least slightly less mopey, with the Average White Band's "One Look Over My Shoulder." It's a tender and fairly uplifting reminder at the end of so much pain that love is just around the corner, that you can always "make a new start." Let's hope our boy ?uestlove can do the same, so we can reconvene in a few years time for Babies Makin' Babies 3 : More and More Babies.