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Friday, March 16, 2018

Chic: Risqué


1) Good Times; 2) A Warm Summer Night; 3) My Feet Keep Dancing; 4) My Forbidden Lover; 5) Can't Stand To Love You; 6) Will You Cry (When You Hear This Song); 7) What About Me.

General verdict: The recipe is getting a bit too predictable, but the hits are still fun.

That's Risqué, not Risque, continuing the band's infatuation with all things French — though, admittedly, there aren't a whole lot of European references in the songs themselves this time around; largely, it's all in the accoutrements, if you know what I mean. Released eighteen days after the famous Disco Demolition Night, it still came about in time to give Chic their last bout of commercial and critical glory, being admired by general fans and Robert Christgau types alike; and while Christgau's love would still extend to some of their records past the «day disco died» deadline, the average public would never again welcome them with the same passion.

In all honesty, though, when you listen to the Seventies' trilogy of Chic, C'est Chic, and Risqué in politely accurate chronological sequence, you can sense that by 1979, the Chic formula had become... well, a formula. There are still plenty of awesome moments here, along with a few clunkers, but it seems evident that with C'est Chic, Edwards and Rodgers had done everything they could with the pattern, and now it is all about finding new variations on the same old basic grooves. Worse, Risqué cheats its own title because there is hardly anything «risky» or simply unpredictable on the record. I mean, you could, perhaps, cringe at the vaudevillian "yowsah, yowsah, yowsah!", or you could denounce the lengthy guitar showmanship on ʽSavoir Faireʼ as egotistic, but at least these little touches took away the factory-like aura of the endless dance­floor-oriented production. However, by mid-'79, fame, fortune, and coke were probably taking their toll, and it shows very few signs of any musical searching.

If we set all our preconceptions aside and simply embrace disco for what it is supposed to be, not for what it is supposed to transcend, then ʽGood Timesʼ, one of the most heavily sampled songs in the history of pop music, might indeed deserve the title of the quintessential disco tune. There are no taunts here, no ironic twirls or twists, no salaciously sexy challenges — just your bare-bones groove, a textbook case of guitar-bass weave between Nile and Edward, very lightly seasoned with sparse piano and string chords and with largely inobtrusive vocals from the band's depersonalized girl personalities. Catchy chorus, but on the whole, the piano chords and the vocals are a bit too much on the sentimental rather than the sexy side, which is why ʽLe Freakʼ will still remain a much better representative of this genre.

Likewise, restrained sentimentality hurts the overall effect of the second (and much smaller) dance-pop hit of the record, ʽMy Feet Keep Dancingʼ — but in pure melodic terms, it is the supe­rior song, not only because it has Bernard stretching out the most in the mid-section, but also because of some superb orchestral crescendos: concertmaster Gene Orloff and The Chic Strings almost manage to steal the song away from its writers with multi-layered overdubs, creating a near-perfect tribute to the art of dancing in the process.

The third big single was ʽMy Forbidden Loverʼ, a dance ballad that perfectly illustrates my gripes about the formulaic nature of the album — it's got everything that a hit needs to be a hit, but nothing above that requirement. Danceable groove, catchy chorus (catchy mostly because it is repeated a million times), musicianship impressive enough to make it listenable/respectable... and, I guess, musicianship is the only thing here that puts it above anything that could be recorded by Britney Spears or Shakira 20-25 years later.

As for the album-only tracks, there's some embarrassing crap here: ʽA Warm Summer Nightʼ, with its cheesy Latinisms ("papi!", "te quiero!") and interminably recycled slow groove, is an unimaginably lazy and trashy ballad — if this were ʽSavoir Faireʼ, we would at least get a great guitar solo, but here we only have the Chic girls spinning the same single verse-chorus over and over. ʽWill You Cryʼ at least has some proper verses and a more thrilling chorus hook (I like the odd contrast between the first, abruptly chopped "will you cry?" and the second, prolonged, apologetic "will you cry-y-y-y-y?"), but suffers from the same problem — being stuck between the rock of non-fun and the hard place of insufficient-soulfulness. And ʽCan't Stand To Love Youʼ and ʽWhat About Meʼ are fairly standard dance-pop — the former surprisingly slower and funkier (rather than disco-ier) than the rest, but the Rodgers-Edwards team is no Funkadelic, and Nile's guitar is way too clean and quiet to retro-fit them with the classic funk crowd anyway.

So, as you can see, my opinion is more along the lines that Risqué was not so much the artistic peak for Chic as the turning point where they switched from creation to craft — unintentionally, perhaps, since quite a few of those who had decided to choose disco for a living around 1976-77 had run out of fresh juice by 1979 (I know that many people still remain under the spell of the Bee Gees' Spirits Having Flown, for instance, but I continue to insist that most of the stuff there was uninspired, flaccid shit — provided shit can be flaccid — next to Main Course and Satur­day Night Fever). Still, millions of people who bought the record and Robert Christgau who praised the record can't be completely wrong all at the same time, right? It still plays out like charming nostalgic fun, just not as much so as the two albums that preceded it.

1 comment:

  1. Never heard the album, but if it’s in any way comparable to Spirits Having Flown I don’t think I’ll bother. Good Times was ok, but the stuff they were doing with Sister Sledge by then was better.