Reviewed on this page:
Chic - C'Est Chic - Risqué - We Are
Family - Real People - Love Somebody Today - Tongue In Chic - Believer - Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove - Glad To Be Here - B-Movie Matinee - Chic-ism - Live At The Budokan
Chic was the brainchild of guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist
Bernard Edwards, who stripped disco of its usual glossy production,
bringing it down to bass, rhythm guitar, and 4/4 drums (played by
Tony Thompson), with minimal string and keyboard sweetening. It
proved to be a fantastically popular approach, but equally easy to
imitate: within a couple of years the Chic sound was all over the
charts, with plenty of rock acts jumping on the bandwagon (Queen's
"Another One Bites The Dust" is only the most obvious example).
When the public lost its patience with disco, Chic's star fell in
a hurry. Rodgers and Edwards moved on to have huge success, mostly
separately, producing artists like Madonna and David Bowie. More
recently they reformed the band, and were touring until
Edwards' untimely death in 1996.
There's a fun, chatty CHIC fan page, though it's lacking some of the usual amenities; also see
the Chic Tribute Page. (DBW)
Nile Rodgers, guitar; Bernard Edwards, bass; Tony
Thompson, drums; Norma Jean Wright, vocals; Luci
Martin, vocals. Wright left 1978, replaced by Alfa Anderson.
Contains the early hits "Everybody Dance" and "Dance Dance Dance
(Yowsah Yowsah Yowsah)." You can probably tell from the titles
that it's a rush job, and there was as little thought given to the
arrangements as the lyrics: the center stage strings on "Dance Dance Dance"
sound great for the first minute, but they go on for seven more without
variation; "You Can Get By" is fully guilty of the mindlessness
disco's critics ascribed to the genre. Still, it's a big step above most
disco product, because of the rock-solid rhythm section, relatively
short running times (many albums of this period boasted only two songs
per side) and catchy tunes ("Strike Up The Band"). Vocalists include
Norma Jean, Luther
Vandross, David Lasley, Alfa Anderson, Edwards and Rodgers,
Robin Clark and Diva Gray. Together with Rodgers and
Edwards, reed player Kenny Lehman got producer and arranger credit; all
future Chic records were produced soley by Nile and Nard. (DBW)
C'Est Chic (1978)
As usual, Rodgers and Edwards wrote everything here, and the #1 hit
"Le Freak" is a masterpiece of funky guitar licks and solid bass
playing, although the other hit, "I Want Your Love," doesn't stand
the test of time as well: the bell outlining the simple syncopated
melody will drive you out of your mind after a while. The non-album
cuts are recorded in the same signature style, and they're
solidly enjoyable ("Savoir Faire," "Sometimes You
Win"). Vocalists Alfa Anderson, Luci Martin, and special guest
Luther Vandross sound like an afterthought, which is only part of
the reason this is the quintessential late disco album. Apparently, the
European version of the LP contains the two hits from the previous
album; those guys have all the luck. (DBW)
Norma Jean (Norma Jean: 1978)
This Rodgers/Edwards-produced solo album is sort of a Holy Grail for Chic fans, but doesn't live up to the hype:
Norma Jean Wright's pleasant voice doesn't have the personality to carry an LP, especially a lackluster ballad like "I Believe In You."
Even the uptempo single "Saturday" is a routine Rodgers/Edwards outing, so there's just one essential track, the giddy dancefloor workout
"Sorceror." And with only seven songs to begin with, there's no excuse for making one of them a cover of Sam Cooke's "Having A Party."
The personnel is identical to contemporaneous Chic records, Gene Orloff's strings not excepted.
A big notch above run-of-the-mill disco, but nothing exceptional by Chic standards.
The #1 hit "Good Times" is probably the best late disco song of
them all, with that hypnotic, endlessly repeating bass line,
trademark guitar and strings in the background, and sing-along
vocals. "My Feet Keep Dancing" is more mindless fun. The rest of
the album focuses on moody ballads ("Will You Cry"), and while it's
an interesting switch, putting the lyrics and vocalists front and
center turns out not to have been such a great idea ("Can't
Stand To Love You"). (DBW)
We Are Family (Sister Sledge: 1979)
Rodgers and Edwards ventured into outside production working with this
previously unknown act. The title "sisterhood is powerful" anthem was
the huge hit, but the other single "He's The Greatest Dancer" is even
better, with sweeping strings, breathless vocals, and a guitar line
that's been sampled on countless hip hop records (notably Will Smith's
"Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"). Unfortunately, the rest of the album is tossed
off in clichéd Chic style: "Somebody Loves Me," "Easier To
Love" and "One More Time" (indeed) have completely predictable
arrangements and forgettable melodies that can't carry the lightweight
lyrics. At least "Lost In Music" has interesting scary overtones,
and "Thinking Of You" sports prominent, well recorded congas.
The musicians are Chic plus Robert Sabino, Andy Schwartz and
Raymond Jones on piano, Sammy
Figueroa on percussion, and the Chic Strings. (DBW)
Real People (1980)
Seemingly overnight, the nation's mood shifted dramatically against
disco; this barely scratched the Top 40 and was Chic's first release not
to go gold. As if sensing the changing winds, Rodgers and Edwards
slammed the clubgoers who made up their core audience on the
title track, and expanded their musical palette (the
exhilarating pop-fusion instrumental "Open Up," the nod to New Wave
"Rebels Are We"). Throughout there's far more reliance on keyboards and
less on strings, but the biggest and most welcome change is Rodgers
stepping out on lead guitar: he solos on most of the tracks, and is
utterly convincing in jazz, blues-rock and R&B modes ("I Got
Protection," one of the disc's best tunes). Rounding out
the set is some straightforward disco ("26") and two unexceptional
ballads ("I Loved You More," "You Can't Do It Alone"). Again, Schwartz
and Jones are on keyboards; Michelle Cobbs and Fonzi Thornton add
backing vocals. I rated C'Est Chic higher for historical value
and because it's more representative of the band, but this album is just
about as solid, and more consistent. (DBW)
Love Somebody Today (Sister Sledge: 1980)
Though their own band was trying to adapt to the end of disco's heyday, Rodgers/Edwards didn't tinker with Sister
Sledge's sound at all: same rock-solid rhythm section, Gene Orloff strings, and sweet harmonizing. This second release
didn't generate any hits, partly because of changing tastes, and partly because the material is mostly weak: the near-title
track "Got To Love Somebody" is absurdly dull and (of course) overlong, and "I'm A Good
Girl" and "You Fooled Around" are formulaic to a T. There are a couple of brilliant cuts,
though: "Reach Your Peak" has irresistable hooks, and the funky groove
of "Pretty Baby" is as ominous as disco ever got. A decent find for Chic
fans, but don't pay through the nose. Again, the band is Chic plus Gene Orloff's strings, and a faceless horn section.
Also this year, Rodgers & Edwards produced Diana.
Take It Off (1981)
More or less a continuation of Real People's emphasis on instrumental prowess instead of disco strings and vocal chants, and along the way Rodgers and Edwards carve out multiple opportunities for themselves to shine ("Flash Back," a funky love song bursting with ideas; "So Fine," with lead guitar encapsulating the Cool Jazz boom which would start a decade later). Perhaps they were saving their more commercial material for their hired gun productions, or maybe they were using Chic as a vehicle for more personal statements, but either way the tunes aren't substantial ("Your Love Is Cancelled"), and there were no hits: the inane, repetitive "Stage Fright" was the unsuccessful single.
Lenny Pickett guests on two cuts ("Baby Doll," which sports a fine bass line though not much else).
Tongue In Chic (1982)
A shift back to expansive dance tracks, though the instrumentation is updated (the keyboard-driven "I Feel Your Love Comin' On"). "Chic (Everybody Say)" - yet another band name chant number - is fun, and
"When You Love Someone" is a blast, starting as an Alfa Anderson ballad feature before shifting gears with a "Good Times"-style Rodgers rhythm lick. More song-oriented and less solo-heavy than Take It Off, though Edwards and Rodgers stretch out on the closer "City Lights."
If you're motivated enough to seek this out, you'll be satisfied with what you find.
Rodgers and Edwards were still in great demand as producers, but for
some reason they felt compelled to put together another Chic LP. As
usual, Anderson and Martin are so far in the background they
might as well not be there, but the main problem is, every track is so
overwhelmed with synths (played by Ron Sabino) that Nile and Bernard
might as well not be there either. The title track is representative of
the rest: an obvious melody and rhythm pounded out by blithely
programmed machines. Rodgers does slip in some examples of his terrific
rhythm guitar work ("You Are Beautiful"), and there are a couple of
memorable tracks ("In Love With Music"), but most of the disc would've
been better left in a vault somewhere. (DBW)
Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove (Rodgers: 1983)
Nile and Nard each broke out with a solo album this year. Rodgers went for a palette so limited it makes Chic's records sound symphonic: light touches of synth, programmed drums, rhythm guitar, and practically nothing else ("The Land Of The Good Groove"). At its loudest, it shows an obvious debt to Prince and Rick James ("Yum Yum," the single). Other tracks sound like demos of Chic tunes (the ballad "It's All In Your Hands"), some of which are pretty decent if not unforgettable ("Rock Bottom").
Certainly interesting for guitar students if no one else ("Get Her Crazy").
Glad To Be Here (Edwards: 1983)
With Nile on guitar, Sammy Figueroa on percussion, and backup singers including Anderson, Martin, Fonzi Thornton and Luther Vandross, this is basically a late-period Chic album with Edwards on lead vocals ("Your Love Is Good To Me"). Often pleasant ("The Joy Of Life") though never arresting and rarely exciting - apart from the hard funk title track - whether fast ("You Don't Know Me") or slow ("Don't Do Me Wrong").
The rest of the core band is Ray Chew, Eddie Martinez and Yogi Horton; Pickett appears on a flat cover of Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got A Hold On Me."
B-Movie Matinee (Rodgers: 1985)
Rodgers' second solo album is another experiment in minimal computerized production: Rodgers and Jimmy Bralower are
practically the only musicians featured, with Bralower handling drum
programming and Rodgers on everything else. There's some tasty rhythm
guitar ("Stay Out Of The Light"), and a couple of swinging grooves
("Groove Master"), but mostly it's noisy and robotic. He throws in a
couple of ballads ("Wavelength") to balance all the uptempo tracks
("Plan-9"), but mostly he doesn't succeed in creating enjoyable music
within the narrow limits he sets for himself. (DBW)
After over a decade of working separately, Rodgers and Edwards got
back together, and the sound is pleasantly familiar: still
stripped-down, funky guitar and bass interlocking in disco-funk
grooves. It's refreshing to hear a dance record with almost no
synth on it. Edwards' playing is actually better than ever, more
expansive and improvisational; Thompson wasn't around for this
reunion, but he's not missed: the session drummers sound just like
him. There are a number of catchy dance tunes ("Your Love,"
"Jusagroove") and even love songs ("One And Only Love").
The second side drags a bit ("Chicism," "High"), the lyrics
are dull and/or silly, the singers sound anonymous, and the rapper
Princesa sounds out of place, but overall this is an excellent value
at bargain-bin prices. (DBW)
Live At The Budokan (rec. 1996, rel. 1999)
Bernard Edwards's last show before his death; though Rodgers (who produced) takes pains to point out that the original
performances weren't modified or improved, it's actually quite precise. The track selection is straight greatest hits
("Dance Dance Dance," "Good Times"), livened up with a long procession of guest stars: Sister Sledge (singing their two
big hits); Slash adding rambling lead guitar to "Le Freak" and a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Stone Free," which also features Steve Winwood on
lead vocals and organ. A lengthy version of "Chic Cheer" allows brief solo features by members of the band, namely
Sylver Logan Sharp, Jill Jones and Christopher Max on vocals, Philippe Saisse and Richard
Hilton on keys, Bill Holloman and Mac Gollehon on horns, Gerardo Velez on percussion, and Omar Hakim on drums. They're all quite good, though Hakim's subtle, slightly busy playing
doesn't quite fit the material - Tony Thompson's solid straight-down-the-middle style would've worked better. A pleasant
though unsurprising testament to the talents of Edwards and Rodgers. (DBW)
Let's get the freak out of here.