AVERAGE WHITE BAND: LIVING IN COLOUR (2003)
1) Check Your Groove; 2) Down To The River; 3) Living In Colour; 4) One Of My Heartbeats; 5) Close To You Tonight; 6) Half Moon In The Crescent Street; 7) Think Small; 8) I Can't Help It; 9) I'm Gonna Make You Love Me; 10) Love Won't Let Me Wait.
But wait — they are not done yet! In fact, I was that close to missing this release at all: very little information on it is available outside of the band's fan-targeted website, and, furthermore, this new studio album almost threatened to get lost in the small, but steady trickle of live releases that the AWB are still baking on a regular basis. Yet there it is: a brand new studio album, much as I hate to admit that. Let us approach it with an open mind and a friendly heart, hard as it is to treat that way a record whose very front sleeve is screaming at you — «do you remember the soft, sweet, sexy days of 1974? Do you?» Particularly hard to take if you were born in 1976.
The good word is: this music still sounds very much like the AWB, despite the fact that there are, by now, only two of the original members left — and that even long-term post-peak member Eliot Lewis is no longer in the band by now, replaced by Klyde Jones. But the presence of Gorrie, who still handles most of the vocals, and Onnie McIntyre on guitar ensures healthy conservatism. Dubstep influences are nowhere near to be found, and neither is auto-tuning. In fact, all of the music continues to be recorded with live instruments.
The bad word, however, is that Living In Colour is a clear step backwards from the minor revival of Soul Tattoo. If anything, the band seems to be retracing their original steps — where Soul Tattoo was a partly successful attempt to restore the «classic» sound of their first three or four albums, Living In Colour brings us back to the late 1970s, the age in which their sound got softened, their grooves got simplified, and their ability to capture the imagination, not just the feet, vanished into thin air. What for — I don't know. Maybe they got a call from a rich millionnaire fan, saying, «oh man, oh man, those days of rockin' it out to Feel No Fret in 1979 were hot — here's a million dollar check if you get me one more of those!»
It only suffices to compare ʽSoul Mateʼ with ʽCheck Your Grooveʼ, which opens this record on a superficially similar note — «checking the groove» reveals that the groove is pitifully limp from all points of view. Even the drummer releases zero energy hitting on the skins, not to mention the twice-as-minimalistic bass. It is still a well-constructed dance groove, but they forgot to adjust the dentures. And, unfortunately, it is the best track on the album.
Or, to be more honest, one of the best tracks. As long as they are ready to throw on even a small pinch of funky energy, the compositions are mildly fun. ʽHalf Moon In The Crescent Streetʼ, in particular, is a touching anthem to New Orleans, and its cajun attitudes add some bright colors to the otherwise dull-gray hue of the record. And ʽThink Smallʼ, presumably recorded live (although my only arguments are Gorrie's spoken introduction and occasional applause on the part of a small audience, both of which could be overdubbed), is a solid brass-led jazzy jam, «in the style of Cannonball Adderley, or The Crusaders, all the stuff we grew up on», Gorrie says. It is not tremendously exciting, but it is respectable second-hand jazz-pop.
Most of the rest of the album, unfortunately, is given to ballads — all of them equally dull and lifeless in their by-the-book sentimentality, culminating with a particularly lifeless cover of ʽLove Won't Let Me Waitʼ (which was already fairly lifeless when Major Harris had a hit with it in 1974, and has only managed to lose its last shreds of pulse since then). Some are slow and some are a bit faster, but who really cares? If you are that nostalgic, just throw on a karaoke version of ʽMore Than A Womanʼ. Going all mushy on us once again is not the way to go if you want to uphold your R&B credibility. Thumbs down — and, as far as I can see, this really is the last studio album by the AWB; considering that age and lineup issues will probably no longer allow them to fabricate hot grooves, I can only hope that they will have the good sense not to release another ballad-soaked record in their twilight years. Gracefully, gentlemen; the keyword here is grace.