AVERAGE WHITE BAND: SOUL TATTOO (1997)
1) Soul Mine; 2) Back To Basics; 3) Livin' On Borrowed Time; 4) Every Beat Of My Heart; 5) When We Get Down On It; 6) Oh, Maceo; 7) Do Ya Really; 8) I Wanna Be Loved; 9) No Easy Way To Say Goodbye; 10) Love Is The Bottom Line; 11) Welcome To The Real World; 12) Window To Your Soul.
No band, good or bad, deserves to go out with an album as lame as Aftershock; thus, long-time fans just had to wait for a move of redemption. Fortunately, there comes a time in the life of most (if not all) artists when they get to think about themselves as too old and tired to care about following trends — realizing that they'd rather just fuck all that shit and get «back to basics», which, coincidentally, happens to be the name of one of the tracks here.
With Gorrie, McIntyre, and Ball still forming the bulk of the band, and Eliot Lewis on keyboards plus Pete Abbott on drums supplementing the old guard, Soul Tattoo may not be a masterpiece of the R'n'B genre, but, coming eight years past Aftershock, it is pure gold in comparison. It is, in fact, as if the past twenty years never happened. No awful electronics, drum machines, real instrument playing, real funky grooves — the band is clearly committed to the safe old formula once again, sending all those dark times when they were betraying their master style into oblivion. No disco, either. Just old-fashioned dance-oriented R'n'B and a few old-fashioned ballads to boot. Giving the finger to all the «new school R'n'B» as well. GOTTA LOVE THAT.
The rewinding is announced already on the first seconds of the album, with the opening syncopated chords to ʽSoul Mineʼ; then, as Abbott kicks in with a solid rocking beat, the bass starts drawing complex geometric figures in the air, and the repetitive "working in a soul mine!" chorus starts getting addictive — that is where you actually start to remember that there used to be things that made you like, if not love, this band. The track does not have a melodic line as memorable and infectious as their few greatest-ever hits from the past, but in every other respect it is as hard-driving and authentic as anything they had ever done — and it sets just the right mood for the entire album. Even if the only other track that replicates its sweaty, funky success is the near-instrumental ʽOh, Maceoʼ, a specially constructed showcase for Roger and his ball, er, sax, I mean. I do mean it — it is one of their most sax-drenched numbers, ever, probably with more sweat spilled over it than during the entire recording of Aftershock.
The other groove-based tunes are somewhat smoother and more pensive, but generally move one step beyond «boring», usually by means of a funny catchy chorus (ʽLove Is The Bottom Lineʼ, ʽDo Ya Reallyʼ). Eliot Lewis comes into his own as an okay vocal replacement for Hamish Stuart, but the star of the show is Gorie, whose range has not deteriorated one bit in twenty-five years time and who is now able to make the best of his falsetto, rather than blindly imitating the Bee Gees (even using it for a gorgeously placed vocal hook on the chorus of the album's worst song — ʽEvery Beat Of My Heartʼ, an over-sappy ballad that incidentally sounds like a boy band product). That said, it's too bad they did not try to populate the album with more tunes like ʽSoul Mineʼ and ʽOh, Maceoʼ — it is highly improbable they were still trying to use that smooth sound of theirs to charm the pants off ladies, so they could at least kick some extra ass for the guys.
On the modest critical scale that was specially invented for the AWB, this is a terrific, completely unexpected comeback, and a noble end to the band's studio career (unless they plan to reward their long term, arthritis-ridden fans with another offering — highly unlikely, considering that there has been no follow-up in fifteen years). Fans of their classic sound will definitely get a kick out of parts of it, to which I must add a pinch of pure respect. To come back together, screw the fashion in grand fashion, and make a defiantly retro album that can, at worst, be «dull», but almost never «tasteless» — not everyone has it in them, and so the thumbs up judgement is as much based on rational context analysis as it is on pure pleasure. Which I am not denying, either: ʽSoul Mineʼ is great fun, regardless of any damn context.
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