BOBBY WOMACK: PIECES (1978)
1) It's Party Time; 2) Trust Your Heart; 3) Stop Before We Start; 4) When Love Begins Friendship Ends; 5) Wind It Up; 6) Is This The Thanks I Get; 7) Caught Up In The Middle; 8) Never Let Nothing Get The Best Of You.
If you like disco as a phenomenon — if the tracks in question do not have to have something juicily outstanding about them, rising over the conventions, in order to satisfy your taste — Pieces, which is Bobby's first full-speed-ahead plunge into the pit, might sound just as healthy and enjoyable to you as anything else he put out in the 1970s. Besides, not every track on here is «regular» disco: ʽIt's Party Timeʼ, ʽWind It Upʼ, and ʽNever Let Nothing...ʼ are the three «anchors» that are strategically placed at the front, at the back, and in the middle to keep the party going strong and throw the obligatory fuel into the fire whenever necessary — yet there are quite a few moody ballads, and even a couple old-schooler funk numbers, to offer diversity.
Nevertheless, so many crucial elements are missing from the platter this time around that yes, I think it is quite safe to define Pieces as that particular turning point beyond which lies shame, obscurity, and only a slim, costly chance at redemption. For starters, Bobby Womack the guitar player is almost completely absent from the stage — ʽWhen Love Begins, Friendship Endsʼ is pretty much the only song here where he is still playing excitingly soulful lead licks. For another thing, gone completely are his creative re-inventions of classic songs: all the material here is new, credited to either Bobby himself, or the rest of the Womacks, or Bobby's producer, or some of the local riff-raff that nobody remembers any more. For good reason, because the «writing» process must have occupied Bobby and his backers least of all circa 1978.
Without his playing, and without his unpredictability, Bobby becomes merely one more face in the crowd — and not as colorful or clownish as hinted at on the album sleeve, either. The ballads, such as the Candi Staton duet on ʽStop Before We Startʼ, still show him capable of solid soulful drama, but it is the kind of material that every more or less respectable soul singer with a good timbre could deliver in his or her sleep at the time; and the subject matter — resist temptation or yield to temptation — is hardly worth praising all by itself, seeing as how it had alreay been explored by Bobby as deep as it was possible for him.
In the end, the title of the last track, ʽNever Let Nothing Get The Best Of Youʼ, is hilariously ironic, seeing as how Bobby belts it out against a backdrop of cheesy disco beats, corny Latin horns, and cooky «party noises» overdubbed in the background — here, clearly, we have ourselves a man who let quite a few things get the best of him, be it the record industry, the stupid musical fashions of the time, the party lifestyle, or just that good old cocaine. Deeply embarrassing in some spots and merely listenable in others, Pieces is the first — and, unfortunately, far from the last — definitive thumbs down in Bobby's career.
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