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Friday, March 2, 2018

Chic: C'Est Chic

1) Chic Cheer; 2) Le Freak; 3) Savoir Faire; 4) Happy Man; 5) I Want Your Love; 6) At Last I Am Free; 7) Sometimes You Win; 8) (Funny) Bone.

General verdict: Some of disco's most immortal moments here, along with some evidence that disco sucks, too.

If you conduct a bit of investigation regarding the origins of ʽLe Freakʼ, you might actually be surprised to find out that the song was conceived as ironic — inspired by a silly turn of events when Nile and Bernard were refused admittance to Studio 54 because of miscommunication, the original chorus was not really "freak out!", but something quite similar phonetically and quite dissimilar semantically. For the non-inquisitive mind, though, the song will be anything but sarcastic: merely the anthem of fun-lovin' 1978-79, completely unburdened by white man's disco sentimentality à la Bee Gees and simply celebrating body language for all it's worth — with just a tiny bit of that «Frenchiness» thrown in for the sake of The Exquisite.

As in all such cases, ʽLe Freakʼ may be the band's biggest hit, but it never really shows the band at its absolute best. Most of the time, Rodgers is chained to a relatively simple (and not terribly original) funk riff; nor does Bernard ever get to tread all over that bass as he did on ʽEverybody Danceʼ; nor do the lady singers demonstrate any particularly mind-blowing vocal gymnastics. But there is clearly something about that chorus that commands your attention like nothing before, turning the song into a collective let's-go-crazy ritual a good two or three years before Prince learned to make such things on a regular basis. In its own way, it is just as defiant and rebellious as any classic punk rocker — and, after all, weren't punk and disco merely the flip sides of the same coin anyway?

Musically, though, much more interesting is the second single, where it makes sense to overlook the repetitive chorus (ʽI Want Your Loveʼ) and concentrate on the complex interplay between strings, horns, and Nile's guitar — the mid-section of the song sounds as if they'd invited ELO to guest on it, and, in fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Jeff Lynne's move into dance-pop territory circa 1979 might be at least partially inspired by this track. However, dance-pop ballads of unrequited love were common at the time, whereas sexy, snappy, provocative anthems heralding the future were much less so — hence ʽLe Freakʼs big win at #1, while ʽI Want Your Loveʼ and all its tricky musical shenanigans only got to #7.

In between the two biggies, C'Est Chic has the usual mix of slow ballads and fast dance tracks, most of them conventional in basic terms, but uplifted and isolated from the pack by the playing talents of Nile and Bernard. Thus, ʽSavoir Faireʼ essentially sounds as a basis for a generic, sappy love confession — except that the boys leave it completely without vocals, instead of which Nile contributes five minutes of fluent jazzy / bluesy soloing, alternating soulfully sustained licks with fairly dazzling speed runs: the single longest and most complex demonstration of his guitar-playing skills so far. ʽSometimes You Winʼ only lacks a very slightly higher vocal pitch to be undistinguishable from a Bee Gees number, but there's a tight little trill that Nile plays against the "it don't mean nothing" part of the chorus that you will never see on a Bee Gees record — nothing like hard, hard funkiness to redeem and justify the sentimentality.

On the downside, ʽChic Cheerʼ should also have been an instrumental — its narcissistic chants far outdo the norm where ʽLe Freakʼ did it just right; Bernie kills it on the bass all right, but the endless "chic, chic" very quickly run the spectrum from cute to silly to annoying to unbearable. And while there are certainly much worse ballads than ʽAt Last I Am Freeʼ, I do not understand why this one had to be stretched out for seven minutes — the endlessly looped slow chorus does not evolve at all, and is not devastating enough in its own rights to warrant so much repetition. In other words, C'Est Chic suffers from the usual banes of dance-pop — regardless of whether your idea is good or bad in itself, it never hurts (or does it?) to replay it for as long as the listeners' legs can carry them. Personally, I'd prefer 12 tracks to 8 instead, but laws are laws.

In a minor quibble, the album also suffers from the loss of Norma Jean Wright, whose distinctive vocal talents on Chic ultimately led her to quit the band and start up her own solo career — she was replaced by Alfa Anderson, who had a much lower range and kinda just blended in with the band: perhaps Norma could have saved ʽAt Last I Am Freeʼ, but this lady simply did not have the same sex appeal and tension in her voice. Not that it's that much of a problem: everybody comes to Chic for the Rodgers / Edwards package rather than the sexy ladies — but hey, if you gonna do ballads, better to come fully equipped than risk not getting it up, right? (For that matter, Edwards takes lead vocals on two tracks here himself, but he, too, is clearly a better player than singer.) All of this means that, when seen in retrospect, C'Est Chic is not necessarily an advance over the self-titled debut — it simply had huger hits. But the time was still right, and the vibes still rang true. "Big fun to be had by everyone" indeed.


  1. Almost embarrassing to say but now the orange text is unreadable, even when highlighting! (It is a nice shade of blue, though.)

    1. Maybe it's just my screen, but I'm not having any real trouble reading it.

    2. I just had an idea: What about putting the verdicts in bold? It already makes formatting sense, and I'm sure that it would go a long way for legibility.

  2. Too much color distracts the viewer (Jacques Tati).