BOBBY WOMACK: ROADS OF LIFE (1979)
1) The Roads Of Life; 2) How Could You Break My Heart; 3) Honey Dripper Boogie; 4) The Roots In Me; 5) What Are You Doin'; 6) Give It Up; 7) Mr. D.J., Don't Stop The Music; 8) I Honestly Love You.
Bobby's label-hopping begins in earnest here: no longer welcome at Columbia, he is switching over to Arista, for which he only made this one album before getting the sack. And do we even need to wonder why? Bland, hookless, run-of-the-mill disco grooves and sentimental ballads that pick up right where Pieces left off and downgrade the artist one or two more notches. This time around, old-school «funky grit» is eliminated completely, so that the entire album flows by without demanding any of your attention. Just fourty minutes of unnoticeable background muzak for healthy clubbing. You go on the floor to stretch out your limbs during the fast ones, then back to the table for a drink and a chat during the slow ones. You don't even remember the dude's name, not even if ʽMr. DJʼ has taken the time to announce it.
The most dreadful thing to realize is that all of the songs, except for the last one, are self-penned this time. The only choice for a cover is quite telling: ʽI Honestly Love Youʼ, a 1974 hit for Olivia Newton-John, a pretty awful song when it came out, and Bobby's attempt to inject some «genuine soul» in it is about as successful as trying to force-feed amphetamines to someone who's been paralyzed from head to toes. In reality, this can only mean one thing: by 1979, lost and confused in the whirlwind of musical change and personal troubles, Bobby had become completely separated from good taste. Oh well; it's not as if he was the only one.
The less said about the «originals», the better. Deep lovers of soul in all of its varieties might find something enjoyable about ʽHow Could You Break My Heartʼ (easily done, Bobby, as long as you keep seducing your ladies with this sort of material; the tacky «phone conversation» alone at the beginning of the track makes it unpalatable), or about ʽThe Roots In Meʼ, a romantic duet with singing lady Melissa Manchester, but probably even those who are ready to forgive almost everything will find it very hard to become inspired by the interminably boring disco grooves that take themselves too seriously to generate the required fun quotient — ʽMr. DJ, Don't Stop The Musicʼ is almost like a philosophical piece in itself, even if there is absolutely nothing going on in the song. As in, you know, somebody told us that there has to be this four-on-the-floor thing, and some wah-wah guitar, and some strings, and some chicks singing backup in the background, and that's, uh, the way it goes. Hey, how come Mr. DJ stopped the music after all? What do you mean, he never even began it? What's wrong with the way we're doing it?
What is wrong is that it's all deadly dull. Disco works if you really agree to stoop to its level — make it raunchy, or at least make it catchy, and there's a guilty pleasure for you all right. But on Roads Of Life, just like on Pieces, Bobby still works from an essentially «polite» point of view, incapable of crossing the line. And he ain't the Gibb brothers, either, having always placed his faith in the groove and the soulfulness rather than melody, so there is no chance of any of these songs attaining the level of a ʽNight Feverʼ. In the end, it's just another forgettable embarrassment, and a thumbs down without any regret.
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