ARTHUR BROWN: DANCE (1975)
1) We've Got To Get Out Of This Place; 2) Helen With The Sun; 3) Take A Chance; 4) Crazy; 5) Hearts And Winds; 6) Dance; 7) Out Of Time; 8) Quietly With Tact; 9) Soul Garden; 10) I Know The Lord Will Find A Way; 11) Is There Nothing Beyond God.
«Kingdom Come» came to an untimely end with Journey, but, considering that Brown still retained Andy Dalby for his next — and this time, first officially solo — project, one could claim that they simply underwent a name change, since the remainder of Kingdom Come's lineup was always a revolving door anyway. That is, one could claim that only before listening to the album. If you don't hear the substantial difference, try again.
Not that the difference is so substantial as to justify occasional haughty dismissals of Dance. One anonymous web reviewer went as far as to blame it for showing «disco tendencies», despite the fact that there is not the slightest hint of disco on the album — most likely, falling victim of a simple psychological association: if the year is 1975 and your album is called Dance, it must be some sort of a disco sellout, regardless of what your ears tell you. Others do not venture that far out, but the overall consensus seems to be that Dance finds Arthur Brown in decline, betraying his psychedelic and avantgarde roots for a smooth, accessible, ordinary pop sound.
However, let us not forget the general picture. At heart, Arthur Brown was primarily a big, sincere fan of R'n'B in its various incarnations, the grander, louder, and more theatrical, the better. The three albums of Kingdom Come, in the overall frame of his work, look more like a part-time experiment, fueled by the mood of the times — a conscious attempt to go over the top by adding layers of extra complexity to the same old R'n'B sound. Now that progressive rock was on its way out, though, Brown's experiment, too, came to an end: and in a way, Dance is not so much a sellout as a process of «calming down» and returning to things that are less arrogant and defying, although by no means following the particular fads of 1975.
It opens with a loud cover of ʽWe've Got To Get Out Of This Placeʼ — yes, including a wobbly synthesizer pattern characteristic of the Era of Funk, but otherwise, quite loyal to the 1965 original in melody and attitude: sufficient proof that Brown could care less about the present if he still didn't have an open path to his past (and, in a funny move of self-irony, the other golden oldie cover on the record is the Stones' ʽOut Of Timeʼ, where Brown's "you're out of touch, my baby, my poor old-fashioned baby" could just as well relate to himself as to his imaginary antagonist). Both songs are quite well done, if not particularly spectacular in any respect, and the presence of «old-fashioned» female backup harmonies and saxophone solos should not be in the least annoying for those who don't have a prejudice against «old-fashioned» R'n'B in general.
The original compositions, meanwhile, are diverse and, even though much less befuddling and easier to swallow than on Kingdom Come albums, also make more sense — at the very least, they give the listener enough time to flesh out an emotional reaction. There is still at least one lengthy, prog-influenced, epic: ʽHelen With The Sunʼ is hardly worse than the average anthemic ballad from Kingdom Come or Journey, with a powerhouse vocal from Arthur and tasteful arrangements of electronically treated guitars from Dalby. There is a little bit of facetious/salacious music hall (ʽCrazyʼ) that is so tongue-in-cheek it would be ridiculous to get offended. There are moody, lyrical R'n'B numbers (like the title track) that sound very closely to certain bits of Kingdom Come properly extended and played to their full length. And there is a funny ten-minute «gospel suite» to end the album, running the gamut from kitschy ska (ʽSoul Gardenʼ) to quite sincere-sounding gospel-funk (ʽI Know The Lord Will Find A Wayʼ) to a rather mysterious, unpredictable reggae conclusion where, after having just sung all the required praise for the Supreme Being, Arthur repeats the mantraic question "is there nothing beyond God?" for two and a half minutes — obviously not hoping for an answer, but not afraid to ask the question, either.
My personal favorite on this record has always been ʽQuietly With Tactʼ, a song that plays out exactly as suggested — in waltz tempo, with a certain cheese-free elegance, and features some of Dalby's finest examples of guitar playing: Dalby is actually credited for writing the entire song, and, indeed, Arthur's vocal part, fine as it is, sounds here more like a taster introduction to Andy's solo parts, spiralling around the listener in a grand display of «controlled emotion». Nobody ever seems to list the song as a highlight, which is a travesty: its solos would easily make my Top 100, had I ever bothered to compile one.
All in all, Dance is certainly not recommendable for those who, in «The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown», value the «crazy» part above all else. But it is definitely an album that belongs to the world of Arthur Brown as safely as anything, and its combination of styles, moods, theatricality, and spirit is anything but generic for 1975. And I, for one, feel good about getting to hear a bit of the human side of Arthur Brown here — we have all gotten to know him fairly well as the God of Hellfire and the Time Captive, but it turns out that he can fairly well hold his own in the much more grounded genre of «dance-art-pop». Thumbs up, of course.