THE AVERAGE WHITE BAND: AWB (1974)
1) You Got It; 2) Got The Love; 3) Pick Up The Pieces; 4) Person To Person; 5) Work To Do; 6) Nothing You Can Do; 7) Just Wanna Love You Tonight; 8) Keepin' It To Myself; 9) I Just Can't Give You Up; 10) There's Always Someone Waiting.
This is the one that broke 'em big. Relocated by Bruce McCaskill from the misty highlands to sunny Los Angeles, and receiving a proper amount of promotion, The Average White Band unexpectedly found more acclaim in the States, where their second, self-titled, LP shot all the way to No. 1 (in the UK, it only climbed to No. 6, and the discrepancy would be even more noticeable on their next two records). Apparently, American audiences felt more at home with the idea of this inherently-black music played by genuine Scotsmen than Scotsmen themselves. You draw the head-spinning sociological conclusions, I will try to restrict myself to the music.
Success actually came on the heels of the big hit single 'Pick Up The Pieces', which, up to this day, arguably remains the AWB's best known and most frequently radio-spun piece to be picked up. For good reason — unless you disrespect «groove-based» music in the first place, it is very hard for me to imagine how this particular groove could be resisted. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with the AWB: they may be too sappy, too sentimental, too generic, too boring, too «white» in a «black» setting or vice versa etc. etc., but none of these accusations work in the case of 'Pick Up The Pieces'.
Roger Ball blows some fine melodic sax in the solo part, but the main attraction is, of course, the basic groove — bass, drums, guitar, and sax locking into one another in one of the finest complex figures that mid-1970s dance music had to offer. And these days, we may actually drag it out of its cocaine-drenched hedonistic L.A. context and just enjoy it for the general inspiring atmosphere that it conveys. Who knows, people might still be wanting to tap their feet and jerk their heads to it long after L.A. itself finally sinks into the sea... but we digress.
For the most part, the AWB smooth out the edges even further out here. Most of the traces of 12-bar blues-rock (like 'Reach Out' from the last album) have been eradicated, so that the album is more or less evenly divided between «edgy» and «soft» grooves (the only exception is 'There's Always Someone Waiting', which closes the album in «blues» mode, but even this «blues» has been tampered with by means of funky wah-wah guitar, fusion-esque keyboards, syncopated drumming, and jumpy transitions from section to section).
The «soft grooves» sometimes feature exciting vocal twists — like 'Keepin' It To Myself' and its falsetto chorus — but the album's reputation still rests on the edgy ones, from 'Pick Up The Pieces' to the second-best cut 'Person To Person' to the proto-disco 'Got The Love' and 'I Just Can't Give You Up' (particularly the latter of the two could easily compete with any given Bee Gees hit of the same era — terrific combination of ingredients on that one).
As far as I am concerned, the one weak link on all of these tracks is lack of implosive guitar presence. Hamish Stuart is competent and moderately inspired, but there isn't one single «fabulous» funky riff on here, or wall-rattling solo, to jump out at the world and conquer it in one go. (Actually, 'Got The Love' begins with a faint hint at such a riff, but it goes away instead of developing in the right direction). Whether that reflects lack of talent or intentional modesty, I have no idea – but then, if the saxophone is allowed to lack modesty on 'Pick Up The Pieces', what's up with discriminating the most important instrument in pop music?
Maybe they thought, though, that too much loud guitar would disrupt the sexy smoothness of the grooves, supposed to match the seductiveness of the curves of the letter W on the front sleeve. This is understandable — the AWB never concealed the fact that they were, essentially, writing music for couples, be it on the dance floor or on the bedroom one. But writing music for couples that is neither «fake» nor «cheap» is very hard business all the same, and if the AWB do not manage to scale much further heights than achieving that goal, this is still sufficient reason for an honest thumbs up, perfectly cleansed from nostalgic overtones.