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Friday, March 23, 2018

Chic: Real People


1) Open Up; 2) Real People; 3) I Loved You More; 4) I Got Protection; 5) Rebels Are We; 6) Chip Off The Old Block; 7) 26; 8) You Can't Do It Alone.

General verdict: Some razor-sharp funky grooves here, despite the heavy consequences of the disco curse.

By the time Chic's fourth album came out, disco was legally pronounced dead  — and although dance-pop in general carried on, evolved, and in various forms thoroughly engulfed the Eighties anyway, artists that bore the disco stigma suffered anyway. Real People only got as high as #30 on the charts (still somewhat respectable compared to the drastic slide of whatever followed) and, more importantly, apart from a gracious pat on the back from disco apologist Robert Christgau, never got much critical attention. Such is the fleeting glory of commercially-oriented music genres — anything created according to their formula gets correlated with the time when said formula was en vogue. Risqué was made at the height of the disco movement, so it must be good. Real People was made when the wave had passed, so it must be bad.

Actually, I think that, purely in musical terms and in that elusive «fun quotient», Real People was an improvement over (Not So) Risqué. Most importantly, Real People is not even a disco album — not a single track here features the proverbial disco bass groove. It is funk, R&B, dance-pop, whatever, but it shows no signs of clinging to a stale old formula: Rodgers and Edwards seem to be well aware that the world of entertainment is changing around them, and while they might be somewhat slow to adapt to the changes, they are adapting enough to not totally look like sad old farts in the overall context. And — also importantly — Real People just sounds sharper, snappier, less overtly sentimental and romantic than Risqué, which put way too much soul in the dance-pop numbers at the expense of humor and quirkiness.

The change was heralded by ʽRebels Are Weʼ, a single whose title becomes much less threate­ning when you hear the song but whose ska-influenced groove actually sounds like it belongs in the 1980s, with all the dance-oriented New Wave outfits, rather than anywhere in the vicinity of Studio 54. The chorus sounds a bit silly — too much chest-pounding defiance and too little musical substance — but Rodgers lays down some nifty licks in the instrumental mid-section that are far more invigorating than any amount of "we are the rebels, rebels are we, we want to be free, my baby and me". For that matter, the lyrics are a fairly weak point on this album, a problem made far more serious when chorus lines like "I got protection / From your infection / I got pro­tection / Got to pass my inspection" act as major repetitive hooks. But what can one do if there is actually no protection against the infection of the groove? ʽI Got Protectionʼ is six minutes of pure Chic chic, with one of the sharpest clavinet riffs this side of ʽSuperstitionʼ and brilliantly overlaid guitar parts — one minute Nile is playing a smooth, expressive blues-rock solo, the other minute he is throwing out several interweaving riffs with super-robotic precision, and the whole thing rocks harder and crunchier than anything on Risqué.

The title track, with its gospel-influenced chorus, is closer to classic Chic, but precisely because it remains more infected with the smooth 'n' soulful spirit of Risqué, I find myself enjoying it less than ʽRebels Are Weʼ or ʽI Got Protectionʼ — at the same time, the short slow ballad ʽI Loved You Moreʼ strikes me as being sharper and more emotionally tense than ʽAt Last I Am Freeʼ and its ilk: Luci Martin gives a great vocal performance, and Nile wraps things up with another blazing and tasteful guitar solo... actually, one reason why I might be so seriously enthralled with this album is the sheer amount of Rodgers' lead guitar work — for some reason, more than half of the songs have him blasting off into space on his own, in stark contrast with Risqué where he intentionally blended into the woodwork most of the time. But that does not mean the band has no time left for musical experimentation in other spheres — for instance, the ʽOpen Upʼ instru­mental overture to the album has a brilliant orchestral arrangement, in which Bernard and Nile actually try to funkify the strings themselves rather than have them play the typical sentimental accompaniment to the disco groove.

The record does fizzle out towards the end: the Bernard-sung ʽ26ʼ is a catchy, but slight dance number whose silliness overrides its groove power ("on a scale of 1 to 10, my baby's a twenty-six"? why not a "sixty-nine"?), and the final dance ballad ʽYou Can't Do It Aloneʼ, sung by the band's not-too-expressive backing vocalist Fonzi Thornton, is boring schlock. But no Chic album has ever been perfect, and if you concentrate on the strong rather than the weak bits, I am pretty sure that Real People will hold more appeal for those who like their dance music sharp, snappy, and hot, whereas Risqué would be more comfortable for those who like it smooth, inoffensive, and a good pretext to woo the ladies rather than, well, turn them on. The real good news is, we are living in a world where it no longer matters if it's 1979 or 1980 — all the more reason to throw all the old rankings in the dumpster and re-evaluate these old records from a music-only, fuck-all-that-entourage position.


  1. Thanks for exploring these Chic records. I've never been thrilled by 'C'est Chic' album but this one from the first listen sounds like a very well crafted record. Will definitely give it more spins.

  2. Good review. The Chic Albums are all worth being checked out. Can't wait to read about 'Take it off', which has some great tracks.