His new album, Beautiful Goodbye — his first studio set in six years, out Tuesday — is a departure in sound. Melodic trance soundscapes of contemporary electronic dance music are married to warm, cinematic orchestral backing tracks.
The music, some of his richest yet, came first — it almost always comes before the lyrics, he said. The vibe was inspired by some of the artists the Chicago-born songwriter has been listening to lately: Bebel Gilberto. Sade. Burt Bacharach. Antonio Carlos Jobim. Chopin. DJ Morgan Page.
But the biggest departure is the subject matter.
Marx, 50, is single for the first time in his adult life after recently ending a 25-year marriage to singer-actress Cynthia Rhodes ( Staying Alive) with whom he raised three sons. He’s writing about the carnal pleasures of what two people do in the dark.
Seduction. Passion. Loss and acceptance. Now and Forever, meet Right Here Right Now.
“I found that as I was making this album that it was a whole series of stories about seduction and not romance in the same way I’ve always written about it before,” Marx said while driving around Los Angeles.
“I’ve written so many songs about forever and eternity and that kind of bond, and I found myself enjoying the idea about writing about the mysterious dance two people do when they’re circling each other and are first together. The central theme through the album is surrendering to the feelings that are bigger than you are,” Marx said.
If there’s an aural antecedent, one might reference the slinky soul of Keep Coming Back from his third album, Rush Street (1991 ). “That was the first time I really wrote a sexy song. Not a romantic song but a sexy song. Plus, I had Luther Vandross singing along with me on that,” he said.
A year before Vandross died, Marx collected a 2004 Song of the Year Grammy for co-writing Vandross’ Dance With My Father. Writing for others has always been Marx’s lucrative outlet between projects and changes in pop radio taste. As such, he’s been able to avoid many pitfalls.
“I made it all about the music,” he said. “I was never terribly interested in trying to enlarge my celebrity. To me, that is a drug that you never get enough of. The records I made were more famous than I ever was because I didn’t cultivate that level of celebrity many do. I had more of a sane life because of that.”
Marx has composed multiformat hits for Barbra Streisand, Keith Urban, Josh Groban, Daughtry, Vince Gill, Jennifer Nettles, Kenny Rogers and Natalie Cole. Urban’s 2011 country hit, Long Hot Summer, enabled Marx to claim authorship of a No. 1 single in four separate decades.
The biggest of his No. 1 hits, Right Here Waiting in 1989, was first pitched to Streisand. She loved the melody, she told him, but she couldn’t sing the lyrics as written so Marx recorded the ballad.
Marx still has the voice-mail message she left, he said, laughing. “We’re friends. I see her a couple times a year, and I adore her. When I tell her that story she still laughs and says, ‘I make no apologies. I’m not going to be right here waiting for anyone.’ ”