Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson may be the best husband-wife team working in pop music, especially when it comes to expressions of soulful romance. They aren't operating at the top of their form, though, with Love or Physical. The album kicks off with the title track, which is too synthesized and jittery for this twosome. In addition, Ashford gets too ambitious with his voice, forcing it down (and up) a number of blind alleys, including a thin falsetto. Those complaints—over-synthesization and over-Ashfordizing—apply to the whole record. His voice, the partnership's weak link, is way too prominent.
The songwriting isn't up to the pair's usual standards either. The romantic "I'll Be There for You" and "Till We Get It Right" have stirring choruses, but the verses are stale. The funkier "Comes with the Package," produced by David Frank and Mic Murphy (the two members of the System), is a slight improvement. In a departure, Nick and Val also perform a song written by someone else. So whose tune did they choose? Gershwin, perhaps? Ellington? Stevie Wonder? Nope, the insipid "In Your Arms" was co-written (with Bruce Roberts) by Seagrams heir-aspiring songwriter Edgar Bronfman Jr., who, one hopes, can always fall back on the family business. Love or Physical is a rare letdown from Ashford and Simpson, and the only good thing to be said about it is that they seem to be getting a decade's worth of mediocrity out of the way in one fell swoop. (Capitol)