Reviewed on this page:
Brass Construction - Brass Construction II - Brass Construction III - Brass Construction IV -
Brass Construction V - Live - Brass Construction VI - Attitudes -
I think I've officially delved too deep into 70s funk: a reviewer unearthing Brass Construction is like the
dwarves in Moria freeing a balrog. With next to no originality, variety or charm, these guys make
Brick sound like P-Funk. In fact, it's almost uncanny how they
use the usual ingredients but remain utterly bland: the band relies on chants that somehow are never amusing or cathartic;
the grooves have plenty of open space rather than solos, but never become hypnotic; the bass and horn lines
aren't overly simple but they aren't memorable either; not one of the musicians is strikingly more or less accomplished
than the others. Okay, I'm exaggerating a little: their second and third albums aren't bad, and I'm holding out hope for the
fourth, which I haven't yet heard.
Randy Muller, keyboards, songwriter; Larry Payton, drums; Joe Arthur Wong, guitar; Wade
Williamston, bass; Mickey Grudge and Jesse Ward, sax; Morris Price, trumpet.
Brass Construction (1975)
Setting a pattern that would hold for most of the band's lifespan, nearly all the tracks are written and arranged by
Randy Muller, and Jeff Lane produced. Muller comes up with capable riffs ("Dance")
but can't figure out anything to do with them,
and with no exceptional soloists, what you get is endless repetitive mid-tempo grooves that don't hold your attention.
"Changin'" is the only consistently exciting cut; "Movin'" was the single (and the group's sole Top 40 hit),
but it's no better than the rest.
Every song has a one-word title (the pro-Peeping Tom "Peekin'"), presumably the influence behind
Fear Of Music and Come.
Brass Construction II (1976)
Muller went high-concept this time - he wrote everything, and each tune has a parenthetical title straight out of
John Coltrane ("The Message (Inspiration)").
The music too is much more complex: a Caribbean feel and extended flute solo on "Now Is Tomorrow (Anticipation)"; "Sambo
(Progression)" crosses Santanaesque guitar with Love Boat strings.
It's a mixed blessing - "Blame It On Me (Introspection)" is an aimless country/pop song that sounds like a Jim
Croce outtake - but more often than not, an improvement.
Even the straight-ahead funk is more varied ("Ha Cha Cha (Funktion)," which periodically breaks into chachachá rhythm).
Strings by the Irving Spice Boys.
Brass Construction III (1977)
Halfway between the unchanging arrangements of the first album and the scattershot survey course of the second: the songs each sound different, but it all sounds like the same band. "Yesterday" is a ballad with Maurice White-style lead vocal; "Celebrate" is pop-funk while the opening "We" is heavier, and "Get It Together" sounds like a theme from a 70s crime drama series.
"Top Of The World," disco-funk by Grudge and Wong with swooping strings and a heavy metal bridge, is the only track here Muller didn't write. "L-O-V-E-U" is one of Muller's best grooves, topped by soaring lead guitar. But he's still quite limited as an arranger, so the horn charts are unexceptional ("Happy People") and the tracks tend to run on too long ("We").
No big hits here, but this may be the group's most enjoyable album from start to finish.
Brass Construction IV (1978)
It's time for some faint praise, as this record is never great but is consistently okay.
"Get Up," latest in the line of "Movin'"/"We" clones, at least has decent guitar and synth solos.
"Perceptions" cops EWF's falsetto harmonies and bass groove, but so smoothly it's hard to fault them for it; "One To One" is a fair OP knockoff. The tightly chorused guitars in "Help Yourself" would soon become an R&B cliché, but wasn't at the time. And while Muller's bag of arranging tricks is empty as ever, the relatively short tracks rarely wear out their welcome ("Sweet As Sugar," a reasonably tasteful love song).
Brass Construction V (1979)
By now all the pop trappings and stylistic variety were out the window, and squiggly synth has mostly replaced the horns.
The bass line of "Watch Out" is the best lick I've heard from the band yet, and the tightly arranged "Right Place" is a
standout; otherwise they work out on undistinguished grooves, as usual ("Get Up To Get Down").
"It's Alright" is a direct copy of The Sylvers' "Boogie Fever," right down to the fuzz bass.
Muller shared the songwriting duties with Barr ("I Want Some Action"), Payton ("Music Makes You Feel Like Dancing") and
Grudge (two co-writes). Around this time, Muller founded the female-fronted funk unit Skyy, and was a member of both bands until Brass Construction's demise.
Live (rec. 1979, rel. 1997)
This live recording dredged up by Collectables Records is of extremely good quality, recording and performance both. (In fact, I suspect this was recorded live in the studio like the Ohio Players' Jam.)
The hits are here - "Movin'," "Changin'," "L.O.V.E. U" - along with a couple of the EW&F-style ballads ("The Message (Inspiration)"). The band keeps things simple, not varying the grooves much and keeping the tunes to a manageable length, while the keyed-up audience keeps the energy level high.
The only drawback to hearing their best songs back to back is that you really notice how similar they are: "We" is almost identical to "Movin'," for example. But if you want to know what the band brought to the table, start right here.
Brass Construction VI (1980)
Mostly middling hard funk once again ("Working Harder Every Day," "Do Ya"), but this time Muller didn't contribute any
tunes at all.
The arrangements are solid and unsurprising, though James Clisset's harmonica adds a welcome change of texture ("We Can
Do It"). Two dreary ballads are by outsiders Fuchs and Fields: "I'm Not Gonna Stop," with
Russell Thompkins-style vocals from Eltesa Weathersby, and "Don't Try To Change Me"
sung by Flame and Culley.
Lyrically the only interesting moment is the pro-sexual ambiguity chant ("Him or her? Who do you prefer?") on "We Are Brass."
You can tell from the album cover that the band was having an identity crisis: two of the band members are dressed like professional wrestlers, two others wear ties, Grudge has a Union Jack T-shirt and Price appears to be one of Genghis Khan's soldiers, complete with drawn scimitar. Muller took over producing with Lane out of the picture, wrote all the tunes, and - like almost everyone in the early 80s - went with synthesizer über alles ("Can You See The Light"). The not-quite-title-track "Attitude" uses the least interesting synthesized vocals I've ever heard.
There are just a couple of throwbacks [throwsback?] to the group's original horn-heavy incarnation, with mediocre vamps and simple repeated chants: "Hotdog" and "Funtimes." And the slowie "Forever Love" isn't half-bad.
If you own any pop records from 1985 you can probably guess what happened here: overly bright DX7
synth lines and relentless 4/4 programmed drums obliterate everything in their path (the hideously Depeche Mode-like "Modern Touch").
"Give And Take" was the single.
Fortunately, there is one good old-fashioned funk tune, "Startin' All Over Again."
Muller produced, and the back cover photo shows him in a tug of war with the rest of the band: I don't know who won, but
this was the band's final release.
Pissed? Blame it on me.