Do we really need another live album from Lionel Richie? Not really. But it’s still damn good.
Hello From Las Vegas is Lionel Richie’s fourth live album. It becomes number 5 if you count The Commodores Live! from 1977. Not that there’s nothing wrong with a live album per se, but it has been a long time since we’ve had anything original from Lionel.
Back in 2009 the former Commodore released his last true album of original material, Just Go (featuring a duet with Akon, no less). Although that sank largely without a trace, his previous album, 2007’s Coming Home, was actually pretty decent.
Since then Lionel has been all about the touring: he’s toured Europe, the UK and Asia several times, and has resumed a steady performing schedule in the US. He did release an album of duets in 2012 with country stars, singing new versions of his own songs, the seeming hallmark of any ageing superstar is to re-record their hits with younger, hipper artists (although, to be fair, it does include a superb version of ‘Lady’ with Kenny Rogers).
And, like so many elder statesmen of pop, Lionel has also had his very own Vegas residency, which is presented to us on his latest live album. The question that goes unanswered on Hello From Las Vegas is: why?
With a similar tracklist to Encore, Live in Paris and Symphonica in Rosso, you can’t help but feel we’ve been here before. Sure, there’s some variation in the trackless, but something new might have been nicer.
But that’s not what Lionel on is about anymore. He is now dedicated to giving the people what they want: the hits, and nothing else. On stage, Lionel delivers a knockout show night after night, performing his classics using arrangements that replicate the originals as close as possible while complimenting his voice.
And for Lionel that’s made him one of the biggest selling touring attractions around the world.
Credit to Lionel, he certainly knows his audience. He knows that if his fans are willing to shell out on hundreds of pounds worth of tickets, he has to give them what they want. He isn’t a Stevie Wonder, who’ll litter his set with lesser-known gems for the audience to talk through. Nor is he a Brian Wilson who’ll play his classic albums in full.
He knows his audience want the hits. But he doesn’t just churn the hits out in an uninspired manner. It’s clear on Hello From Las Vegas that he truly enjoys performing these songs.
He’s a showman who gives the crowd exactly what they want to hear. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when Lionel’s hits are so phenomenal. Indeed, there’s probably some hits (like “Oh No” or “Still”) that he’ll miss out completely due to a lack of time.
Do we need another live album from Lionel? No. But that hasn’t stopped me listening Hello From Las Vegas on repeat since it came out.
They’re are 2 version of Hello From Las Vegas: a “standard” edition and a “deluxe” version with a couple more songs. For American fans, there’s also a version only available on CD at Target (but, for some reason, it doesn’t have the same songs as the “deluxe” version). More importantly, there’s also a rather snazzy bright green vinyl edition of the “deluxe” set list.
Whatever version you buy, there’s little new or surprising on the album. It’s simply Lionel, his longtime band, and his biggest hits. Sure, it’s not necessarily that creative, but it’s joyous run-through of Lionel’s greatest hits, backed superbly by his longtime band. Who couldn’t enjoy that?
Naturally, the track-list is heavy on the ballads. After all, it was those syrupy love songs that made Lionel a household name in the first place, even if they did and eventually pushed him out The Commodores.
The mash-up of ‘Easy’ and ‘My Love’ opens the album, and largely sets the pace for the other ballads. ‘Stuck on You’ is turned into a singalong, as is the ever-soppy ‘Three Times a Lady’. Predictably, ‘Hello’ is another cheesy singalong, but the crowd laps it up. Thankfully, the mid-tempo ‘Penny Lover’ spices things up, albeit just a little.
At 70, Lionel still sounds pretty good. For those of us who’ve seen him perform recently, he’s still a commanding showman. Indeed, his energetic (and often frantic) performance in London opening for Stevie Wonder threatened to overshadow Stevie’s somewhat mixed set.
However, on some songs, like the excellent ‘Truly’, Lionel begins to speak-sing, perhaps a sign of his age. If you’re in the audience watching Lionel, it’s probably not as noticeable. But then again, how many other 70 year olds leap around the stage singing ‘Brick House’?
Now, the love songs are fine but Lionel excels on Hello from Las Vegas is on the dance numbers. Every live version of ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ is better than the studio version, and the version here is no exception. ‘Lady (You Bring Me Up)’, one of The Commodores greatest songs, is thoroughly enjoyable. There’s even from for a snippet of ‘Fancy Dancer’.
The highlight comes, however, with the ‘Brick House/Skin Tight/Fire’ medley, mashing up The Commodores’ hit with classics from The Ohio Player (which on closer listening, share more than a passing similarity with ‘Brick House’). Lionel is simply on fire. His band, pound out this epic funk mash-up and Lionel proves wrong the naysayers who deride him as the world’s cheesiest wedding singer. No, the former Commodore can still clearly get funky.
Of course, as Lionel went more mainstream in eighties, some of the material went MOR and was lacklustre at best. Case in point: ‘Say You, Say Me’ somehow won an Oscar in 1986. But, we could probably live without it on Hello From Las Vegas. Similarly, while ‘We Are The World’ is catchy, again, there’s better songs from the Lionel Richie catalogue that could have been included – ‘Still’ and ‘Sail On’ are notably missing from the album.
Nevertheless, the album finishes on a high with a blistering finale of ‘All Night Long’, perhaps the perfect end to a Lionel Richie set. The arrangement is suitably funky and the crowd get their final chance for a singalong with Lionel.
All in all, Hello from Las Vegas is a fun, thoroughly enjoyable album from one of the greatest showmen in the business. His music and between songs patter may be a tad cheesy, but there’s no denying that Lionel Richie isn’t a a consummate performer. His music, simple but elegant, is always pleasing, and in performance, Lionel is difficult to beat.
And yet, while Lionel isn’t the only star to tour his hits from decades ago, it nevertheless feels a bit of a waste that such a talent isn’t recording anything new anymore.