Happy 35th Anniversary to Shalamar’s seventh studio album The Look, originally released July 11, 1983.
Shalamar began their career as a complete studio creation of Soul Train’s Don Cornelius in 1977. Two years later, Soul Train dancers Jeffrey Daniels and Jody Watley had come into the band along with singer Howard Hewett. Shalamar evolved into the ‘80s as a vocally strong urban contemporary post-disco/soul outfit.
By the time their 1982 album Friends came out, Shalamar’s dynamic was beginning to change. 1983’s The Look was the next logical step. As written by A Scott Galloway in the liner notes to the 1998 The Right Stuff CD reissue of the album, lead singer Hewett and the group members were interested in the soulful end of the new wave sound from groups like Culture Club and Wham! at the time. This influence heavily informed The Look.
It also helped that Shalamar always had great strength in the image department, which was perfect for the high fashion element of 1980s pop culture. MTV era Hollywood photographer Bobby Holland took the photo used for the cover. Again according to Galloway, The Look’s fashion magazine-like cover art worked well with Watley’s youthful interest in glamour magazines such as Harper’s and Vogue. So the element of period posing, hairstyles and makeup matched up well with the new romantic/new wave aesthetic Shalamar (and their producer Leon Sylvers) were embracing musically. As for the music itself, The Look provided very stylish production across its ten very strong musical ideas.
“Closer” starts out the album with a rhythmically heavy boogie/electro funk number. The synth bass of the song plays a somewhat elaborate, brittle pattern, while the vocal harmonies of the group give the chorus some beautifully chorded flavors. “Right Here” has a light shuffle to its funky uptempo rhythm, with the disco/funk rhythm guitar and bouncing synth bass lending to its harmony-rich “sophistifunk” musicality.
“Dead Giveaway”(which allegedly features uncredited guitar work by The Time’s Jesse Johnson), “No Limits (The Now Club)” and “Disappearing Act” all find Shalamar embracing the rigid beats and metronomic bass of new wave/synth pop.
Shalamar embraced this new wave/synth pop approach on their previous album Friends, and these are even more committed tributes to the form of the time. “You Can Count On Me” is a Fender Rhodes piano based urban contemporary soul ballad. A Scott Galloway’s CD liner notes also mention that this particular song was penned by SOLAR label owner Dick Griffey’s wife Carrie, who also had her own solo career at the time. “Over And Over” is a synth pad laden bass/guitar driven sophistifunk tune yet again. “You’re The One For Me” is a liquid, jazzy medium tempo number, comprised of contemporary jazz tinged chords and vocal dynamics from all the musicians and Hewett himself.
“You Won’t Miss Love (Until Its Gone)” hits an even harder end of the post-disco/boogie funk present on this album. The title track ends the album with something of a hybrid of the jazzy post-disco groove Shalamar had carefully developed here and their evolving interest in pulsing new wave rhythmic rigidity. Jazz fusion bass maestro Stanley Clarke slapped away on bass here too. According to Galloway, he met Hewett through their mutual accountant John Ritter and became close friends. Aside from this number, the Hewett/Clarke collaboration would also yield the hit “Heaven Sent You” from Clarke’s 1984 album Time Exposure. So in the end, The Look had a lot going for it, especially within the context of its time.
In his AllMusic review of the album, Leon Stanley suggests that the combination of new wave and post-disco electro worked well on the uptempo songs here, but that the ballads lacked strong memorable hooks. I don’t per se agree with this assessment. But what The Look did do successfully was showcase how much UK new romantic/new wave music was influenced by American funk, disco and soul that the US had culturally rejected by the early 1980s. So by making albums like this one, Shalamar effectively showed where this “new” music came from. Even if it was the final album recorded by their classic lineup of Daniel, Hewett and Watley.