AVERAGE WHITE BAND: SOUL SEARCHING (1976)
1) Overture; 2) Love Your Life; 3) I'm The One; 4) A Love Of Your Own; 5) Queen Of My Soul; 6) Soul Searching; 7) Goin' Home; 8) Everybody's Darling; 9) Would You Stay; 10) Sunny Days (Make Me Think Of You); 11) Digging Deeper (Finale).
A technical success, perhaps, but this is where the meter finally started dropping down. Although Soul Searching still shows no signs of the band seriously embracing disco, it veers dangerously in the department of «suave»: the band, formerly known for its warm (if not exactly «hot») dynamic grooves, is putting more and more effort into producing lyrical balladry. Of the nine primary songs on this record, six are ballads (or, at least, slow, soft, sentimental grooves), and only three take us back to sweaty, funky territory. Surely this is not what I usually associate with the idea of «soul searching» — unless we consider the soul to be six parts honey and only three parts grit.
Furthermore, the three «gritty» numbers are nowhere near classic level. Two had already been previewed on Person To Person, where they did not look particularly inspiring next to big ones like ʽPick Up The Piecesʼ, and here, they are the best of the lot. On ʽLove Your Lifeʼ, the whole band still works as a terrifi-team; all that is lacking is a set of memorable guitar and/or brass riffs, instead of a set of nice-sounding, but not particularly inspired wah-wah grumbles. ʽI'm The Oneʼ has a much more interesting brass part, even if the syncopated blasts were clearly reaped from the same territory on which ʽSuperstitionʼ had sown its seeds four years earlier. The third dynamic dance groove is the near-instrumental ʽGoin' Homeʼ, and there is nothing I can say about it except that... well, it could have worked well in a blackspoitation movie.
As for the ballads, it may be worth one's while to locate and try to enjoy ʽA Love Of Your Ownʼ, sometimes extolled as one of the band's finest, although I find the wheezing synthesizer annoying, the brass backing purely atmospheric, and Gorrie's falsetto completely generic; ʽQueen Of Your Soulʼ is a slightly better proposition, with a better oiled rhythm section and tolerable chimes instead of the synthesizer. Actually, at this point I believe that my favorite band member is... whoever is playing the bass at any given moment (Stuart or Gorrie): the bass lines, in general, show more originality and creativity than any other lines on the album.
It does not help matters much that the record is dressed up in conceptual clothes, with an ambient ʽOvertureʼ that previews some of the album's themes at ultra-slow tempos, and an equally slow and moody ʽFinaleʼ, subtitled ʽDigging Deeperʼ — perhaps a hint at the band not having found its soul, after all, but promising to do better next time. In the process, they ended up giving us some average mid-Seventies equivalent of what would later be known as «adult contemporary», the only difference being that it is sometimes interesting to trace the traces of the band members' fingers on their instruments, whereas in classic «adult contemporary» the very idea of «musical performance» would be devalued.
Still, that's no reason to go easy on Soul Searching: it must be clinically boring for everyone but the most dedicated nostalgic funky guy (especially if he happened to get his first lay to the softporn sounds of ʽWould You Stayʼ), and since 1976 is my year of birth and I couldn't experience any nostalgia for this whatsoever, I give it a thumbs down with the clearest state of conscience that I could ever feel.