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Friday, March 30, 2018

Chic: Take It Off


1) Stage Fright; 2) Burn Hard; 3) So Fine; 4) Flash Back; 5) Telling Lies; 6) Your Love Is Cancelled; 7) Would You Be My Baby; 8) Take It Off; 9) Just Out Of Reach; 10) Baby Doll.

General verdict: An attempt to reroute the circuits from «disco» to «post-disco» that largely fails.

Chic's slide into mediocrity begins here. While Real People showed them moving away from disco formalities into a comfortable world of pop hooks and teasing, seductive excitement, Take It Off takes another step forward... and ends up spraining an ankle. Several sources classify it as «post-disco», a typically vague term that is, however, quite correct in this case — Bernard and Nile were obviously searching for ways to modernize and adapt their dance grooves, and on a purely formal level, they succeeded. The big problem, however, was that they were a couple of musical near-virtuosos applying their art to a musical age in which virtuosity no longer mattered; the sci-fi age was coming on, with more and more demand for robotic backing tracks that could provide a solid launchpad for one's futuristic dance moves. Take It Off is the band's first signi­ficant attempt to yield to those requirements, and it comes off as forced — no wonder, because how many stars of the disco age could actually adapt to changing musical values? The new decade required new faces.

A certain whiff of problematicity is felt here right from the opening lines: not only is "my stage fright holds back me all night!" syntactically hideous, but the hook is delivered in an odd manner, so that it is hard to tell if the singers want to get you all excited for the dance floor or if they are really feeling insecure and panicky. The bass/guitar interplay is technically solid, but somewhat perfunctory — neither of the two instruments is playing any particularly sharp or memorable lines, they are just busy syncopating like crazy. As time goes by, Luci Martin does nothing to make you more certain of whether she is happy or afraid, of whether the song should be taken socially or personally; the silly magic of ʽLe Freakʼ is just not there. I have no idea why this song was selected as the single and not the follow-up, ʽBurn Hardʼ, which is at least a much better defined dancefloor bitch of a tune — "slap your bass", "burn hard", "Brahms gonna do the charm" (indeed!), a bit of brass, some classy distorted riffage in the mid-section, all the works. Maybe they thought that this was too reminiscent of the vintage disco days for the tastes of 1981; if so, the time has come to set things straight and understand that the more Eighties' Chic sounded like Seventies' Chic, the better they were.

Unfortunately, there just aren't too many of these nice throwbacks. The title track has all those sexy-sleazy lyrics ("your package is nice, but I've got to look twice..."), but the vocals do not agree with them all too well, and all such tracks pale hopelessly next to contemporary younger artists like Prince — considering that Take It Off was released one month after Controversy, pretty much the only thing that these guys have on Prince now is the raw monster power of their bass lines, and indeed, the only thing that makes ʽTake It Offʼ (the track) still worth a listen is the sheer amazing strength with which Bernard keeps slapping these strings. Well, no, it's a solid groove overall, but there is very little fun in it, if you know what I mean.

Another problem is that sentimentality rears its boring head again: there are lots of dance-ballad stuff here (ʽWould You Be My Babyʼ, ʽJust Out Of Reachʼ, etc.), for which they have neither the proper vocal talent nor the right type of melodic hooks. Too much of it sounds like the band's former protegé  (and by 1981, a big star in his own right) Luther Vandross — stiff, plastic soul, poorly hidden behind a formalistic dance groove. It is possible to seek comfort in instrumentals or semi-instrumentals (ʽSo Fineʼ, a bit of simplistic vocalizing allowing Nile to stretch out with a nice jazzy solo; ʽBaby Dollʼ, a short vehicle for the band's brass section), but these are too few and too insignificant in the grand scheme of things to make a difference.

Still, in a way, any Chic album is salvageable and even lovable as long as it has Bernard's bass slapped all over it — they did not dare to de-personalize and mechanize their music to the degree when the players behind it would become completely insignificant. If you are a true sucker for funky rhythm, Take It Off belongs in your collection. But if you are just looking for the best-of-the-best in early Eighties' dance music, this is where you probably should definitively draw the line on these guys: much like all the early rock heroes of the Fifties who couldn't handle the transition into a new musical era, the Chic aesthetics was way too deeply rooted in the basement of Studio 54 to be able to survive into the next decade.


  1. George, shouldn't it be yellow?...

  2. I love this record for 'Just out of reach', in my opinion the findest Chic Jam ever. Besides that, I agree with George here. Oh, great album cover, by the was.

  3. Burn Hard = Bernhard. Can't figure out the Brahms thing, though.
    Maybe Brass? Dunno.