AL GREEN: HAVE A GOOD TIME (1976)
1) Keep Me Crying; 2) Smile A Little Bit More; 3) I Tried To Tell Myself; 4) Something; 5) The Truth Marches On; 6) Have A Good Time; 7) Nothing Takes The Place Of You; 8) Happy; 9) Hold On Forever.
Or maybe it's Have A Good Time, after all, that is slightly more consistent than Full Of Fire — it's so easy to sway from one to another when one stops playing and the other begins. At least there is one major plus: no pure-atmosphere seven-minute track for the ultra-dedicated fan. The closest to a seven-minute track is a couple four-minute tracks, one of which ('Something') is really quite a moving ballad, with some exquisitely novel use of a sitar (if that really is a sitar) that someone is trying to play like a moody Nashville guitar. [The connection with George Harrison, despite the sitar use, does not extend beyond the name of the song]. The other chunk of slow romance, 'Nothing Takes The Place Of You', is nothing special — but it is not a seven-minute chunk, and so you are not forced to concentrate on how positively it demonstrates the depth of Al Green's decline.
Elsewhere, he is accelerating the drive towards disco, but there are no distinct disco basslines and the melody in all these dance send-ups almost comes first and foremost before the groove. The only track that misses competition with Chic and the Bee Gees by an inch is the opener 'Keep Me Cryin', yet it is so awash in complex strings patterns that it is hard to accuse it of extra cheesiness. If there is a flaw, it's that Al is working way, way too hard to wrap the listener in a friendly, loving vibe: with tunes like 'Have A Good Time', 'Happy', and 'Smile A Little Bit More' — all on the same album! — he doesn't so much wrap you as he drowns you, and if he were just a wee bit less talented and charismatic, this would be the equivalent of overdosing on Prozac. All of the ambiguity and all of the subtle darkness that used to elevate his art to the level of A-R-T seem to have been burned away by just one pan of boiled grits, and I sincerely miss them...
...but only when I take a look back at his major efforts from the start of the decade, that is. As frustrating as it is to admit, there is not a single really weak tune on the record — well, 'The Truth Marches On' starts out suspiciously, as if we were about to witness some forced "gritty blues-rock", but then it turns out the blues-rock aspect of the song is secondary to its atmosphere and inspired religious message. And no matter how shallow and superficial I could find the exhortation to 'have a good time', the note captured by Al comes across as so sincere and charming in its naïveness that spiritual depth and profound meaning can go fuck themselves for a good half hour — and I don't care.