Kenny Lattimore and Chanté Moore are thirtyish soul singers who a while ago got together and, eventually, married. They now have released Things That Lovers Do, a duet collection of principally covers that falls into the subgenre of fireplace-sex music. You know its 14-karat world: Visual hallmarks include the Egyptian sheets Lattimore, a few lyrics into the album’s opening title tune, can’t wait to get horizontal on. Residential construction and interiors so blindingly new they foster squinting. The (therefore helpful) soft lighting. Crisp leather upholstery. Candlelit bubble baths for two, as Moore anticipates. And, centrally, fireplaces—although not the sort Ben Franklin would recognize.
“Every time I wake up,” Moore semi-whispers before she and Lattimore break into a version of Rene & Angela’s 1986 hit “You Don’t Have to Cry,” words sticking to the roof of her mouth, “I wonder what can I do for you today.” Lattimore responds, gushier and more world-historical: “You make my heart sing,” he confesses, before taking a magisterial rest and asking us to “Imagine the infinite possibilities”—an audible ellipsis follows here—”you and me.” The back of the CD carries a warning: “This project may cause pregnancy!” it reads, before explaining, “Well, we got pregnant just making this album, so proceed with caution!” The warning highlights another risk of fireplace-sex music: A fatal descent into bad taste.
But as realized by these two smooth, well-coordinated, complementary singers and Arista chief Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who found time between Avril Lavigne and Pink conference calls to executive-produce Things That Lovers Do, fireplace-sex music has a distinguished past. At Motown in the ’60s, Smokey Robinson poured poetry into it, and Marvin Gaye—who could never do without sizzling duet partners—solidified the casting element. Motown sensed that the changing fashions of residential construction and shopping plus sex and male-female duets equaled box-office.
And then in the late ’70s, two Motown-sired geniuses, the singer-songwriter-producers Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who had created Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By” cornerstone, made albums such as Send It and Is It Still Good to Ya; the latter remains fireplace-sex music’s Messiah. Flanked by earlier Philly soul velvet hangovers and the arrival of the lingerie-minded Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Ashford & Simpson demonstrated just how hooky, groovy, operatic, soulful, and intense fireplace-sex music could be. Over time, soul albums of most stripes reserved a track or two for the mood, however tweaked or adjusted. When in the early ’90s hip-hop began to re-access classic soul, fireplace-sex music was there too.
As the most sustained voicing of the subgenre in some time, how good is Things That Lovers Do? Lattimore and Moore are connoisseur-quality on two new lovey-dovey Jam-Lewis tracks. They’re fast-paced, momentous—real Ashford & Simpson—on producer Daryl Simmons’s killer Rene & Angela re-groove, as well as a liquid version of Teddy Pendergrass’s “Close the Door.” They’re down-home and soulful—very Tim McGraw and Faith Hill—on “When I Said I Do,” originally recorded by Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black. When they approach the classics—”You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Is It Still Good to Ya”—they’re minimalistically modern, which in the case of the Ashford & Simpson cannot help but be disappointing.
Lattimore and Moore sing with an aroused, subtle intelligence. Fireplace-sex music, after all, isn’t just one of r&b’s most original and lasting inventions; it’s stupidly classic stuff.