Search This Blog

Friday, February 23, 2018

Chic: Chic

CHIC: CHIC (1977)

1) Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah); 2) São Paulo; 3) You Can Get By; 4) Everybody Dance; 5) Est-Ce Que C'est Chic; 6) Falling In Love With You; 7) Strike Up The Band.

General verdict: Very silly, sure, but still some of the best musicianship from when even lowly dance pop entertainers still played their sweaty instruments...

It has never been formally explained, I think, whether there are any significant general musical differences between «Euro-disco» and «American disco», other than merely a matter of geogra­phical disparity. Subconsciously, we would probably think that «American disco» is closer to its funk roots, emphasizing a livelier and slightly more free-form approach to performing, while «Euro-disco» is more robotic and more strictly disciplined, with even more emphasis on the mechanistic strings and no deviations from the formula. Think Gloria Gaynor vs. Boney M, or something like that. But is there some strict waterline dividing the two?

Chic are probably the best example of a band that took a big piss on that waterline, if you pardon the language. Guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, the group's perennial back­bone, were based in New York — the least American of all American cities — and while both were outstanding musicians, they were also quite open to the idea of musicians dissolving them­selves in the music, chained to and ruled by the supreme power of the immovable groove. The ideological emphasis is on being cosmopolitan: with Chic, you can name one of your tracks ʽSão Pauloʼ, give another one of your tracks a French chorus, and quote "it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" on yet another one. But above everything else, Chic asks the question, "is it possible to exercise creative and spiritual freedom while writing some of the tightest, rigid-est dance music in the universe?" — and attempts to give a positive answer.

These songs ain't ʽHeart Of Glassʼ, and they ain't even ʽStayin' Aliveʼ — it would be useless to search for hidden meanings or subtle layers of irony or paranoia. This is dance-pop par excellence, whose primary purpose is to lighten up the life of a Tony Manero. But the coolness of Nile and Bernard is that, in between the endlessly repeating vocal hooks, they find plenty of space to assert themselves as a couple of merry, spritely, expressive spirits. ʽDance, Dance, Danceʼ, the album's lead-in track and the band's first successful single, is at its greatest not when they chant the enigmatic "yowsah yowsah yowsah!" refrain, but when the vocals die down and you get to lose yourself, with no strings attached, in the amazing bass groove — that bit when it's literally just Bernard laying on the zoops and Nile chicken-scratching his way through could go on endlessly, as far as I'm concerned. It is the sound of life itself.

Almost every track here works, one way or another, even if most people probably only remember the hits (ʽDance Dance Danceʼ and, uh, ʽEverybody Danceʼ — another case where I much prefer Norma Jean Wright's vocals on the verses to the corny chorus, and where Edwards' little bass solo blows everything else away anyway). ʽSão Pauloʼ, I guess, with its slightly more relaxed pacing, could be considered elevator-ish filler, and ʽEst-Ce Que C'est Chicʼ is almost impossibly ridi­culous with its French choruses and vaudevillian descending riffs, but it is hard to forget either the former or the latter. Perhaps the most obvious candidate for filler is the ballad ʽFalling In Love With Youʼ, very BeeGees-Olivia-Newton-Johnish in flavor and all, but its saving grace is the cooing delivery of Norma Jean Wright, the band's lead lady singer at the time — most likely, it will either irritate the living daylights out of you or seriously boost your sex hormones (regard­less of your gender identification). In other words, everything here is shallow, stupid, dated, and absolutely adorable nevertheless.

Most importantly, it is a textbook example of why it is wrong to generalize «disco» as an in­herent­ly inferior successor to «funk». Sure, at its core disco relies on simplification — like boogie-woogie — but with some effort and dedication, it can easily be re-complexified, as Mr. Edwards will be glad to show you on most of these tracks. I said «stupid», yet there is really no sense that any of this music was written and recorded with the direct goal of insulting our intel­ligence — most of the arrangements are multi-layered and melodic, and most musicians would kill to be able to lay down some of that mean, mean Edwards bass. It is largely the lyrics that have not stood the test of time ("strike up the band / makin' music is our plan" is bad enough when spoken once — and they just had to turn it into the song's main hook!); but now that it is not 1977 any more, and nobody remembers what Studio 54 was all about, Chic can be taken out of the glitzy context and simply enjoyed for the awesome musicianship. Like, who is the guy playing that terrific smooth keyboard solo on ʽDance, Dance, Danceʼ?..


  1. "It is the sound of life itself." Love it.

  2. George, I would love to see you review Ministry's albums. I wonder what you would make of them.


      But why is this issue raised on a Chic review, of all things? Are we dreaming of a disco-industrial mash-up?

  3. Just thought I had a good chance of you noticing my post, this being your newest review. Yes, I remember the two Ministry reviews from your old site and how positive they were. I listened to "The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste " in its entirety for the first time in years yesterday and I thought what a fun album it still is. I found that it's a great album not only for the mind but also for the body. If you're in the mood for some wiggling, spasms and occasional headbanging :)

  4. Nice to see a deservedly positive review for an album that you likely would have savaged 20 years ago. Looking forward to your takes on the post-Risqué albums.

  5. Good Review. Chic were an ultratight band, and though their material was not always great, their albums are fun to listen to.