When it comes to his albums, R&B/pop singer Lionel Richie says he likes to keep his fans on their toes.
But when he takes the concert stage, he knows there's something to be said for giving the people what they want.
"The worst thing is to go to see an artist, and they do something completely unexpected," said Richie, who's opening for Tina Turner on her farewell tour. "[My performance is] a night of the crowd singing along, remembering where they were when the songs came out."
So fans who come to the shows can rest assured they'll hear Richie's solo hits, such as "Hello" and "Stuck on You," along with such classics as "Three Times a Lady" and "Sail On" from his days with the Commodores.
But when Renaissance, the album Richie just finished, is released sometime in early summer, fans can expect a few surprises.
"I love being different, when someone says, 'What in the world are you doing?,' " Richie said from a recording studio in Los Angeles. Contrary to the reputation he established for himself as a balladeer, Renaissance is a "dancing album," said Richie, who turns 50 in June. "It's almost like Can't Slow Down," he added, referring to the 1983 disc that spawned some of his biggest hits, including the calypso-tinged "All Night Long (All Night)" (RealAudio excerpt).
Keeping The Door Wide Open
Renaissance will be Richie's first album since 1998's Time and only his fourth album since 1986's Dancing on the Ceiling. "I didn't plan the hiatus," he said, pointing to the label mergers and personnel shifts that have beset the recording industry over the past five years as the reason for his diminished output.
"Every time I got ready to gear up for an album, I just didn't see the people all on board at the label. Now I think it's together."
Richie recorded much of the album in London, where he collaborated with other writers, including Rodney Jerkins, who wrote the 1999 Jennifer Lopez hit, "If You Want My Love," as well as songs for Destiny's Child and Whitney Houston.
"There are a few 'Lionel Richie' songs on here, but I decided that instead of locking the door and putting all of my expressions down, I decided to go out and play with a few people," Richie said.
The "big surprise," Richie said, is that the album will feature an uptempo song with the Backstreet Boys called "Cinderella." Richie said he called the Backstreet Boys' camp and found out the group were fans.
"That's really an honor, and you can't pass up the opportunity to work with a group like that," Richie said.
Richie assures his fans that, despite its uptempo focus, Renaissance won't be lacking in ballads. "The song you can get married to is on this record," he said. "We don't miss a marriage, man."
Show Spans Career
Richie said he's playing 80-minute sets on the tour, covering his career from the Commodores to his new music. Richie also toured with Turner in 1985.
He will begin a solo tour after his stint with Turner wraps up June 16 in East Rutherford, N.J. "I hope to bring the Commodores out for a surprise somewhere on my tour," Richie said. "That'll be the highlight of everything."
But Commodores manager David Fish said fans shouldn't get their hopes up for a Richie/Commodores reunion.
"Lionel's a pro; he knows to say what his audience wants to hear," said Fish, who began managing the Commodores before Richie left the group in 1982. "The guys have all talked about it, but it's a long way from talking about it to actually doing it," Fish said. The last time Richie played with the Commodores was at a 1990 reunion in Tuskegee, Ala., which is Richie and the group's hometown.
Walter "Clyde" Orange founded the Commodores in 1968. They made their name with such funk hits as "Machine Gun" and "Brick House" (RealAudio excerpt of live version) before taking a softer turn with such Richie-penned ballads as "Three Times a Lady," "Easy" and "Sail On" (RealAudio excerpt), which began to define the band's sound.
Richie left the group in 1982 and was one of the biggest sellers of the 1980s with such hits as "Hello" and "Dancing on the Ceiling." Richie also was instrumental in organizing the 1984 "We Are the World" benefit record, which featured appearances by Michael Jackson, Steve Wonder and Bob Dylan.