AVERAGE WHITE BAND: FEEL NO FRET (1979)
1) When Will You Be Mine; 2) Please Don't Fall In Love; 3) Walk On By; 4) Feel No Fret; 5) Stop The Rain; 6) Atlantic Avenue; 7) Ace Of Hearts; 8) Too Late To Cry; 9) Fire Burning.
How can I «feel no fret», I wonder, when, without a warning, all of the advantages gained in 1978 are lost one year later? The Average White Band finally make their way through to disco, and it is not a pretty sight. Actually, it is no sight at all. The whole album just speeds by, and once it's gone, nothing remains but the sad echo of involuntary toe-tapping.
Let us begin with this: ʽWalk On Byʼ used to be a decent pop song, a highlight of the Dionne Warwick catalog and all. What was the reason for trying to reimagine it as a mid-tempo dancefloor standart sung in disco falsetto? It takes all the power out of the hooks without adding any extra groove strength. There is nothing wrong with trying to modernize classics as such, but there has gotta be a point. This particular rearrangement has none. And that is what's wrong with the whole album altogether: the band seems to have snapped out of their conservative formula — and found itself aimlessly adrift in musical space.
The central piece here is the title track. At six minutes and thirty seconds, it is supposed to demonstrate how firmly the AWB has now grasped the essence of disco. Sure enough, they reprogram their rhythm section — hardly a monumental task — speed up the tempo, and provide the club-goers with an extra bit of dance fodder in case the club-goers run out of «average white disco» artists before dawn. But the groove as such is non-existent: the guitars are limited to beeps and bleeps, the brass section plays nothing but lazy, quiet flourishes, and the keyboards are limited to «atmospheric» hissing synths. Basically, they just forgot to add some music to our day.
Unfortunately, I cannot locate any hidden gems, either. ʽWhen Will You Be Mineʼ is probably the strongest of the lot, opening with grumbly wah-wah and preserving a strong funky attitude throughout — it sounds like a second-rate outtake from Warmer Communications, and, for that reason, is quite a traitorous introduction to the album; once it's over, it's lazy balladry and limp, unsubstantial disco all the way to the end. ʽAtlantic Avenueʼ is occasionally extolled as a highlight as well, and it is a semi-notch above the rest due to its proud anthemic ambition, but the lyrics are ultimately dumb ("So come on, down Atlantic Avenue / Let the samba take ahold of you" embodies the decade's hedonism without the slightest bit of irony — even the Bee Gees could do better than that), and the melody only really goes well together with a leisure suit.
In short, Feel No Fret simply reflects a complete loss of whatever individuality these guys had — and I have no idea how it is possible at all to enjoy this without first constructing a late 1970s dance club atmosphere framework in one's mind. (For that matter, I strongly believe that ʽPick Up The Piecesʼ or ʽSame Feeling, Different Songʼ will find their admirers any time, any day). But if, for some reason, you are in need of a concrete example of how «transition to disco ruins a solid funk band», a «paired» listen to Warmer Communications and Feel No Fret will do nicely, and a perfect thumbs down is guaranteed for all.
(PS: For some reason, the CD edition of the album not only added four extra tracks, but was even retitled as Feel No Fret... And More — as if we should all be happy to get more of the same for the same money exactly when it comes to selling the worst album in the band's history so far. Marketing is a strange, strange art indeed).