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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The 5th Dimension: Star Dancing

THE 5TH DIMENSION: STAR DANCING (1978)

1) You Are The Reason; 2) Hold Me; 3) Going Through The Motions; 4) You Are The Most Important Person In Your Life; 5) Star Dancing; 6) You're My Lifetime Opera; 7) Slipping Into Something New; 8) We Could Fly; 9) A Good Love.

I think that nobody who has heard The 5th Dimension's first albums and is adequately versed in the history of pop music would have a hard time predicting that sooner or later, this band would go disco. Either that, or they'd just split — and, actually, both things happened, since this last chapter in the band's history finds them losing two key members, Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, who left to start their own duo career. Their replacements were never permanent, so I won't even bother naming them — what matters is that from now on, The 5th Dimension is essen­tially a Florence LaRue / LaMonte McLemore show, with Ron Townson coming and going at will. Actually, even that does not matter: just about any vocally endowed set of African-Ame­rican per­formers could claim to be The 5th Dimension.

What does matter is that somehow, by 1978 they had secured themselves a contract with no less than Motown Records themselves, and since Motown were heavily investing in modern dance music at the time, and modern dance meant disco... well, there you go. There is a whole lot of Motown songwriters and producers on Star Dancing, including the famed Hal Davis and the lesser known Harold Johnson and God knows who else, and they all get busy marketing The 5th Dimension as Motown's latest and hottest addition to the roster. I mean, look at that album cover: it's as if it spells out, loud and clear, that flower power is over and it's high time to move that booty to the sci-fi sounds of tomorrow.

Surprisingly, as far as stereotypical disco goes, this is not a bad record. There's quite a high fun quotient here, with good, multi-layered arrangements, engaging vocal parts, and some seemingly genuine excitement — I think the band was actually excited to get busy working on a new for­mula, after the old one had completely worn thin anyway, and the «artsy» stylizations of Earth­bound did nothing to improve their fame and fortune. In particular, the album's only single, ʽYou Are The Reason (I Feel Like Dancing)ʼ (and by ʽyouʼ I presume that they mean ʽour shitluck career for the past five yearsʼ), has a clever and highly melodic mix of pianos, horns, strings, and vocal har­monies that would be hard to despise if there's any place in your life at all for Earth, Wind & Fire, or even for Michael Jackson's Off The Wall.

Of the faster numbers, ʽHold Meʼ is distinguished by a prominent flute part that gives an indivi­dualistic twist to the disco groove; and the title track is a serious effort to capitalize on that whole «music of the cosmic future» idea behind the marketing of disco as a progressive trend — replete with «cosmic» effects, sci-fi lyrical clichés about the Milky Way and stuff, and booming God-like bass vocal ad-libs ("WE'RE HAVING AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE STARS!"), although the best part about the song is the dizzying "spinning, spinning, spinning yeah!" hook. I would say that this track relates to contemporary Parliament / Funkadelic material in the same way that their early classic stuff related to psychedelic pop — bubblegummy ersatz whose main problem is with corny style, not well-crafted melody.

Another good tune is Marilyn McLeod's ʽYou Are The Most Important Person In Your Lifeʼ, which has the band go all optimistic-psychological on our asses — the good news is that they are able to make it into quite a meaty, juicy anthem, with an aggressive, funky groove, strong, con­vincing vocal calls-and-responses between male and female parts, and intelligent intrusions from electric guitars and saxes. A little more care and promotion and they could have easily made an epochal hit with this.

Of course, there is no way to escape a number of ballads, some of which are moderately hook-filled (ʽGoing Through The Motionsʼ, which sounds like typical Olivia Newton-John, but with better vocals) and others are just mushy (the last two songs), but overall, the album is clearly dance-oriented, with the ballads just functioning as interludes or winding-down conclusions, and with the dance-oriented numbers in general being vastly superior to the ballads, I do believe that in the end, Star Dancing deserves a thumbs up rating, as one of the better representatives of its much maligned genre. Not that it could change anything in the band's fortunes: latecomers on the scene, they found themselves unable to make a dent in the charts for themselves.

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