After a 10-year absence, Lionel Richie proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The current R&B environment is much raunchier than it was in 1986, with New Jack Swing sensibilities giving love and sensuality--in the hands of performers from Jodeci to Adina Howard--a harsher edge. But in his return to recording, Richie, the master of soft touches, shows that there's still nothing wrong with trying a little tenderness.
From beginning to end, "Louder Than Words" is palatable enough for the crossover crowd, but also soulful enough for his now-older black female fans, many of whom moved on to Babyface in Richie's absence. The elegant "Don't Wanna Lose You," the uncharacteristically sensual "Say I Do" and the easygoing jam "Ordinary Girl" (co-written with Babyface) show that Richie hasn't lost any of his charm or compositional powers. A welcome return.