In 1986, Richie released Dancing on the Ceiling, his last widely popular album, which produced a run of US and UK hits including “Say You, Say Me” (U.S. #1), “Dancing on the Ceiling” (U.S. #2), “Ballerina Girl” (U.S. #7), and “Se La” (U.S. #20), Richie’s most recent U.S. Pop Top 20 hit. The title selection was accompanied by a video directed by Stanley Donen, which drew inspiration from Royal Wedding, a 1951 Fred Astaire film Donen had directed. The critical consensus was that this album represented nothing more than a consolidation of his previous work, though Richie’s collaboration with the country group Alabama on “Deep River Woman” did break new ground. By 1987, Richie was exhausted from his work schedule and after a controversial year laid low, taking care of his father in Alabama. His father, Lionel Sr., died in 1990. Richie made his return to recording and performing following the release of his first greatest-hits collection, Back to Front, in 1992.
Since then, his ever-more-relaxed schedule has kept his recording and live work to a minimum. He broke the silence in 1996 with Louder Than Words, on which he resisted any change of style or the musical fashion-hopping of the past decade, sticking instead with his chosen path of well-crafted soul music, which in the intervening years has become known as contemporary R&B.
Richie’s albums in the 1990s such as Louder Than Words and Time failed to match the commercial success of his earlier work. Some of his recent albums, such as Renaissance, have returned to his older style and achieved success in Europe but only modest notice in the United States. Since 2004, he has produced a total of six Top 40 singles in the UK.