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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blood, Sweat & Tears: More Than Ever


1) They; 2) I Love You More Than Ever; 3) Katy Bell; 4) Sweet Sadie The Savior; 5) Hollywood; 6) You're The One; 7) Heavy Blue; 8) Saved By The Grace Of Your Love.

Curious, yes, but as late as late 1976, the band was somehow still holding up. As rhythm & blues, black and white alike, was steering ever closer to sterilized disco standards, and men were co­ming to terms with beginning to sound like machines rather than human beings, there are practi­cally no signs of catastrophe on More Than Ever — yes, at the expense of sounding way too old-fashioned, Blood, Sweat & Tears make an album here whose reputation a couple of decades or so past its original release must have inevitably exceeded the «warmth» of the initial reception (when the record stalled at #165, and was used as an excuse by Columbia to drop the band from its roster — not that the label itself didn't have a hand in this failure).

Anyway, more than anything else, More Than Ever takes its cue from the peak years of Stevie Wonder — with plenty of funky clavinet, brass fanfares à la ʽSuperstitionʼ, «ominous», socially acute, R&B, and excursions into gospel soul territory. Almost half of the album is self-penned, and the other half is allocated for relatively obscure covers, sometimes provided by guest players (e. g. ʽSweet Sadie The Saviorʼ, credited to Patti Austin, who took part in the sessions as backup vocalist). There is very little here that could be even remotely called «daring» or «experimental», but the songs are written and recorded with care, and, most importantly, with enough obvious love for the purely musical side of the business.

Occasionally, there are tasteless missteps. ʽHollywoodʼ, a glitzy dance-funk number that, out of everything on here, moves the closest to disco, was probably intended as a tongue-in-cheek self-paro­dy — the band sending up their own image of «prisoners of Las Vegas / Beverly Hills» — but it is not funny enough to be perceived as a purely comic number, and so, the ecstatic chants of "Hollywood! Hollywood! I think we're gonna be here a while!.." can easily come across as silly pandering rather than self-irony.

The big, bulky, gospelish ballads are also a problem. ʽI Love You More Than Everʼ, despite not being written by any of the band members, is entitled way too similar to ʽI Love You More Than You'll Ever Knowʼ to suggest sheer coincidence — and invokes unfavorable comparisons, since this here song is just a sentimental, hyper-orchestrated love ballad. The oboe part from guest star Sid Weinberg is a useful bit of peaceful pastoralism to draw attention away from the corny string arrangements, but it is still not enough to push the song into «artsy baroque» territory. In the end, it's just another sappy love hymn, suffering from excessive weight. ʽSaved By The Grace Of Your Loveʼ, closing out the album, suffers from the same, and this time, it does not even have any oboes for partial redemption. But at least they both give it an honest try.

A little more adequacy seems to be present in the tougher numbers. ʽTheyʼ is a funk / fusion ve­hicle that seems to grumble against organized religion, but, most importantly, has several instru­mental passages that dispense with predictability — guitars, brass, vibraphones, and the rhythm section move around in semi-free-form mode, groping for ideas, and generate a few minutes of thoroughly anti-commercial controlled chaos à la Zappa, which, furthermore, fits very well the overall confused / angry mood of the song. The funky instrumental ʽHeavy Blueʼ, in comparison, never tries to move into previously uncharted territory, but it does establish a moderately cool proto-disco groove — delightfully integrating all of the band's varied instrumentation to capture the now-dated, but then-resonant stylishness of the decade without sacrificing the musician.

The rest of the songs do not deserve much commentary, but, as usual, none of them are awful — in fact, beyond the unlucky corniness of ʽHollywoodʼ, there is nothing on More Than Ever that would significantly challenge good taste: «generic decent album» would be closer to the truth than «generic failure». Why they decided to release ʽYou're The Oneʼ, one of the better ballads from the set, as the lead single instead of the much more hard-hitting ʽTheyʼ is anybody's guess — probably deemed ʽTheyʼ too adventurous for the masses, or hoped for yet another ʽYou've Made Me So Very Happyʼ — but on the whole, of course, their stubborn clinging to the old style was commercially doomed from the start. However, that is no reason to dismiss the record today without giving it a chance: it remains perfectly listenable, and deserves an unethusiastic, but honest thumbs up.

Check "More Than Ever" (CD) on Amazon

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