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Friday, May 11, 2018

Nile Rodgers: Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove


1) The Land Of The Good Groove; 2) Yum-Yum; 3) Beet; 4) Get Her Crazy; 5) It's All In Your Hands; 6) Rock Bottom; 7) My Love Song For You; 8) Most Down.

General verdict: Much better than contemporary Chic — believe it or not, the title does not lie!

Nile Rodgers' first solo album was actually released about six months prior to Believer, so I am disrupting the chronology here a little — but perhaps it was worth it to smoothly trace the Chic arc down to its lowest point before turning our attention to a record that is actually much, much better than any Chic album after Real People. In fact, the quality of the material here is so high in comparison that one cannot get rid of the feeling that Nile himself already regarded Chic as a millstone over his neck — although, surprisingly, the only significant difference from Chic here is that Edwards is not involved in the songwriting; he does, however, play bass guitar throughout the album, meaning that the sessions were, at least on the surface, still conducted amicably. Also, none of the girls from Chic are involved: in their place, lead vocals are shared between Rodgers and Sarah Dash (formerly of The Bluebelles, Patti LaBelle's backing group) — but this is hardly of any relevance, since the female singing on Chic records was largely depersonalized anyway after the departure of Norma Jean Wright.

What makes Adventures such a better proposal than Take It Off or Believer is that the record consists of, well, adventures. Like all things associated with Chic, it does not aspire to anything higher than providing you with a good time, but unlike Believer, Adventures actually make good on that promise. The rhythms are lively, the riffs memorable, and the atmosphere is surprisingly diverse and even humorous. Although the electronic age is still persistently visible throughout, with plastic percussion, synthetic bass, and plenty of keyboards, at the core of most of these songs is a nicely constructed live guitar melody, played as if it really mattered — look no further than the mid-section of the title track, where Nile plays a brightly pinging funk solo, urging himself on with sweaty "come on! come on!"'s in an overtly hyped-up manner: there is really nothing that energetic on post-disco Chic albums.

Perhaps the best example of this new approach is ʽBeetʼ (sic!), an exciting four-minute festival of truncated guitar riffs, insinuating backing vocals, colorful minimalistic bluesy solos that almost sound as if taken out of the book of, say, John Fogerty, and a subtle sense of fun intrigue all around. Other dance-rockers here operate more frequently on well-worn lyrical or rhythmic clichés, but still have plenty of nice touches to compensate — thus, ʽGet Her Crazyʼ opens out somewhat disappointingly, with a pedestrian gang chorus shouting out the title too loud and too often, but eventually your attention will slip over to the little bits of blasteroid guitar that Nile spills all over the place, going from funk to jazz and back to funk, and eventually letting loose with an uninterrupted stream of hard-hitting bullet licks that fades out much too soon.

It does not always work like that: ʽIt's All In Your Handsʼ, for instance, has too much sentimen­tality in it to ever expand far beyond the nice acoustic arpeggios laid across the stuttering beat — most of the rest of the song just consists of repeating "all in your hands, I put all in your hands" over and over for our dummy pleasure. And the straightforward ballad ʽMy Love Song For Youʼ is only notable for featuring the vocal talents of Sarah Dash — whose silky texture is amusingly close to the original Norma Jean style, which may have been the one reason why Nile was so happy to temporarily get rid of Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin; otherwise, it belongs in the trash can with Luther Vandross and most of the sentimental R&B of the early Eighties.

But still, if you are looking for decent R&B from the epoch, Adventures is a fairly solid bet, arguably the peak of Rodgers' efforts to blend in the new crowds after the demise of disco — if only because he is not afraid here to let loose and remind us why on Earth could we ever think of this man as a guitar-totin' wizard. It was a bad time for Chic, but a good time for Nile, the man: remember that right at the same time he would be producing David Bowie's Let's Dance, and one year from then on, he would be playing on and producing Madonna's Like A Virgin — both of them classics of the dance-pop era (though after that, he would stumble with Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger, but that's the subtle treacherous difference between 1983-84 and 1985-86 for you). If you like the overall sound of those albums (of course, not everyone does), Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove will fit in with them quite nicely.

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