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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Chic: Chic-ism

CHIC: CHIC-ISM (1992)

1) Chic Mystique; 2) Your Love; 3) Jusagroove; 4) Something You Can Feel; 5) One And Only One; 6) Doin' That Thing To Me; 7) Chicism; 8) In It To Win It; 9) My Love's For Real; 10) Take My Love; 11) High; 12) M.M.F.T.C.F. (Make My Funk The Chic Funk); 13) Chic Mystique (reprise).

General verdict: A poor stab at modernization - long, languid, and lifeless.


In all honesty, I fail to understand any «artistic» appeal of dance-pop past its heyday — let us define it approximately as the time period from early Chic to early Madonna — because, once dance-pop completely loses that tiny precious spark of rebellion and defiance (stemming from the simple fact of the music doing something new and provoking) and becomes pure rhythmic enter­tainment for the feet, there is absolutely no reason to ever return to it. Those early Chic records, if you listen to them even today with open ears and open minds, all have that spark. Even if they did not know it, they were looking for freedom with those albums, and found it.

Fast forward now to the early Nineties, and witness Nile and Bernard, missing the good old days so badly, reforming Chic — with new leading ladies Sylver Logan Sharp and Jenn Thomas — and setting out to remind the world once again of how it used to be. From a nostalgic point of view, Chic-ism is everything you asked for: hot, funky dance grooves with powerful vocals, repetitive hooks, chugging bass, scratchy guitars, and a small infusion of sexy love ballads to complete the picture. Overlong, perhaps (sixty minutes is way too much for a Chic party), but such was the trend in the early CD era, and besides, they did have to somehow compensate to the fans for sitting out an entire decade.

The real problem is not the length, though; the real problem is that there is no spark. It might be hard to get that point across, considering that they really, really try to get all the classic ingredients right. But just throw on the opening ʽChic Mystiqueʼ, with its traditional title, tradi­tional bass groove, traditional walk-all-over-you horns, traditional singalong girl chorus, etc., and see if you can get the same thrill for it that you probably can from ʽLe Freakʼ or ʽEverybody Danceʼ. Guitar and bass are locked in mechanistic, never-changing patterns here, so typical of the new school of R&B that completely wipes out the player's identity — which is perfectly under­standable if we're talking Mary J. Blige, but not if we are talking about a couple of guys who, fifteen years earlier, set out to prove that disco music need not really be faceless. In all honesty, while you can certainly tell that this funky groove was played by professionals, ʽChic Mystiqueʼ is a track that totally does not warrant the presence of such greats as Rodgers and Edwards.

The reason why this album turns out to be so long is that the boys are hardly trying: more than half of its dance-oriented tracks sound exactly the same (ʽChic Mystiqueʼ segues directly into ʽYour Loveʼ without me ever noticing that), and the absolute majority sound as if Nile and Bernard hopped around some trendy clubs, listened to some hot dance acts, went "cool! these cats don't even have to write interesting melodies for the crowds to dig 'em", then proceeded to the studio to take advantage of this observation. The only thing necessary was to ensure that the old fans would be pleased, too, so we have all the gimmicks of old, including innumerable self-references like ʽChicismʼ, with fake audience noise and imaginary glitter falling from the sky.

Even the ballads (ʽOne And Only Oneʼ, ʽTake My Loveʼ) largely recycle the old templates. Jenn Thomas has a powerful set of pipes that she is not afraid to use on ʽTake My Loveʼ, but the song's only idea is to loop its title into an endless invocation that soon becomes annoying, and eventually — obsessive and creepy. An additional problem is that a powerful set of pipes, too, does not automatically transform into an interesting personality. At the very least, here was their chance to get back in touch with Norma Jean Wright, and they failed to deliver.

Of course, this would not be a properly contemporary album, either, if there was no flirtation with hip-hop on record: ʽSomething You Can Feelʼ features a properly urban delivery from a little-known rap starlet (Jennece S. Moore, a.k.a. «Princessa») — and if there is something I can feel, it is that the track feels even more forced and unfunny than the last time they tried to rap (on Believer). In the end, this is just a lose-lose situation: the nostalgic appeal of the record gets canceled out by the stiff production and the inability to make the best of recent trends in R&B (not that I could offer any helpful suggestions here), and the modern elements remain inefficient just because they really want you to kowtow before them simply because they're freakin' Chic, raised from the dead. Alas — no deal. 

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