AVERAGE WHITE BAND: CUT THE CAKE (1975)
1) Cut The Cake; 2) School Boy Crush; 3) It’s A Mystery; 4) Groovin’ The Night Away; 5) If I Ever Lose This Heaven; 6) Why; 7) High Flyin’ Woman; 8) Cloudy; 9) How Sweet Can You Get; 10) When They Bring Down The Curtain.
Recording of this album was somewhat darkened by the accidental death of the band’s drummer, Robbie McIntosh, from overdosing, with a story that would be fairly typical for the rock hero party style of the time — an unfortunate side effect of «normal» L.A. party entertainment, with someone «accidentally» substituting cocaine for heroin (could be from here that Quentin got the inspiration for Pulp Fiction, or from a billion similar stories, I guess).
The evil joker inside me wishes to state that the rest of the band were too stoned to notice anyway, and that is why they carried on like nothing happened, with Cut The Cake continuing in exactly the same vein as AWB; but, as a matter of fact, they did notice (if anything, Alan Gorrie nearly died as well in the same incident, only saved in the nick of time by Cher — «best thing Cher ever did», adds the evil joker), quickly replacing Robbie with Steve Ferrone and dedicating their next record to his memory. If there ever was an individualistic change in the drumming style, count me too coarse to notice.
Having mentioned the band’s transfer to sunny California in the previous review, I forgot to mention that the label was Atlantic, and the new producer was Arif Mardin — the same guy who was, at the exact same time, responsible for rebooting the career of the Bee Gees; and, for that matter, I find it quite unfair that even the finest efforts of the AWB have mostly fled from public memory where albums like Main Course managed to take solid root in it. The Bee Gees had the unquestionable advantage of finding the better hooks for their dance grooves; but the AWB were far more respectable as a real groove-based band of actual musicians, rather than three pretty voices backed by interchangeable session players.
Even the songwriting, at this point, could be disputed. Maybe it was their bandmate’s death that provided an unprecedented fit of sentimental inspiration, but the ballads on this record — ‘If I Ever Lose This Heaven’, ‘How Sweet Can You Get’, and particularly ‘Cloudy’ — find beautiful vocal lines to host their emotions, and, at the same time, feel livelier and less glossy than any ‘More Than A Woman’ could be. They are glossy: Mardin, ever the dedicated escapist, gives every number the cleanest sound possible and lays enough echo on the vocals to place an unbreachable distance between the singer and the listener. But the playing is inventive and even improvisatory, which compensates for overproduction.
That said, us tough guys will probably want to throw out the sissy stuff and look for red meat. The juiciest slice is right on top — the title track, a worthy sequel to ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ as one of those near-instrumental compositions that the AWB deserve to be remembered for: another combination of interlocking guitar, bass, drum, and brass lines that is simply infectious beyond reason, or adequate description. But there is also ‘Groovin’ The Night Away’, whose purpose adequately matches the title, and ‘School Boy Crush’, which starts out cool-struttin’ and arrogant like an Aerosmith number (unfortunately, not really delivering upon the promises of that terrific bass groove), all of them quite worth the while of any big fan of the syncopated approach.
And, for that matter, only the last number, ‘When They Bring Down The Curtain’, should probably qualify as proper «proto-disco», even if the rhythm section is still playing by its own rules without properly subjugating itself to the simplifications of disco. So for those who like drawing strict lines between «funk» and «disco», I can safely certify that Cut The Cake is quite «old school». It is also one of the AWB’s finest efforts, although the degree of its adventurousness will probably be better assessed by professional musicians than an average white listener: like all of its predecessors, Cut The Cake really only starts growing once your ear has been properly converted into a democratic six-track system, in which Gorrie’s bass is given the same attention as Hamish Stuart’s guitar etc. I am not sure I have completed the process, but at least it has progressed far enough where, without scruples, I would be glad to support Cut The Cake with yet another thumbs up — if everybody in the world who makes music without a single spark of genius would at least aspire to this level, that would certainly save us all a lot of trouble.
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