AL KOOPER: ACT LIKE NOTHING'S WRONG (1976)
1) Is We On The Downbeat?; 2) This Diamond Ring; 3) She Don't Ever Lose Her Groove; 4) I Forgot To Be Your Lover; 5) Missing You; 6) Out Of Left Field; 7) (Please Not) One More Time; 8) In My Own Sweet Way; 9) Turn My Head Towards Home; 10) A Visit To The Rainbow Bar & Grill; 11) Hollywood Vampire.
Three years off and Al returns again — not in the best of all possible lights, even if, for some reason, Act Like Nothing's Wrong is among his personal favorites. Essentially, what this is is a record conceived and executed as an almost formulaic Seventies' R'n'B album. All it takes is a little bit of detachment and you can see Al Green singing all the songs with Willie Mitchell standing behind the steering wheel.
Words of the day include smooth, silky, and sexy: even the lack of clothes on the front sleeve agrees fairly well with the overall spirit (three cheers, however, for the decision to cover up... no, not what you thought; I meant the hairy chest, of course, that particularly annoying trademark of the mainstream school of coke-and-sunshine pop of the decade). Typical elements of the sound involve well-disciplined, mechanistic brass riffs; funky Stevie Wonder-style clavinet melodies; pulsating rhythm sections whose business it is to keep you on your feet until you drop ('She Don't Ever Lose Her Groove' is quite a telling title); keyboards, strings, background choirs, etc. etc.
In short, superficially this is Kooper's most «commercial» album to date; but if there is one person on the planet who is physiologically incapable of «selling out», Al, at the very least, clearly passes the primaries — all of these songs place more emphasis on sincerity, melodic build-up, complexity of arrangements, and subtlety of expression than on brute head-hammering hooks, and even if these songs got any airplay at all back in the day, they would be immediately forgotten by the populace at large next to concurrent Bee Gees material. Play 'She Don't Ever Lose Her Groove' next to 'Night Fever' and you'll see what I mean.
The jerky glissando that opens 'Missing You' is just like the one that opens 'Dancing Queen' (coincidence?), but no amount of proto-disco glitz that Al managed to pile up can distract from realizing that it is, in fact, a very sad and heartfelt song, and that his falsetto climax in the chorus is a painful falsetto rather than the usual sugar sweet falsetto in the disco tradition. William Bell's 'I Forgot To Be Your Lover' is also given a glossy coating, which passes by almost unobserved, next to Al's so very human delivery. Maybe that is what the audiences did not like — the human element in all of these performances. Technically, Kooper isn't much of a vocalist, but over the years, he'd learned very well to put that to his advantage (he wasn't a student of Dylan's for nothing, after all); the only trouble is that the more experienced he became about it, the less mainstream audiences would be willing to take it. Barry Manilow forever!
Still, no matter how heartfelt, there is a disturbing atmosphere of «sameness» about these songs that only dissipates with the final number — out of the blue, without warning, the bag is tied up with 'Hollywood Vampire', a loud art-rock epic that almost looks like a sardonic spit in the face of all the attitudes pandered to on the previous tracks. No straightforward Bee Gees fan could tolerate this: a subtly-creepy send-up of an evil vamp that ditches sweetness for bitterness and ominousness, not to mention culminating in the most ferocious guitar solo on the entire record. Even if the ratio of musical ideas to song length is not ideal, it is still the only track on Act Like Nothing's Wrong that rattles my imagination even after the album is over, and ensures it a thumbs up where, otherwise, I might have been too lazy to make these thumbs defy the law of gravity.
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