Review Summary: Groovy, greasy, funky, sexy...and amazing.Number 186 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
If this record doesn't make you want to dance, you are devoid of a heart or soul.
The album does not merely resonate out of the speakers it is being played on. It oozes with the pure essence of funk, entering your brain and subjecting it to the real
groove, for there'll be no imitations here. Sly and the Family Stone's 1973 record Fresh
is nothing short of a masterpiece. The guitar, the bass, the beats, the vocals, nothing here is left to chance or ignored. Everything here is a building block to the quintessential definition of funk, and boy, is it a trip. This album is one that has the quality of never, ever getting old. It can be left on for hours and hours on end, and still the party rages on.
The truly great thing about this album is its variety. Sure, there are funky, hip tracks that radiate pure soul, but also present are some cool-downs, representing the jazzy side of the album. The opening beat of In Time
sets the mood for the album perfectly. The drums are soon joined by a salacious lead guitar lick and some soft synth, and Sly lets loose. The backup vocalists provide a beautiful backdrop for his silky voice. The trumpet pops itself in at all the perfect moments, and there is nothing to stop this feeling of just utter cool. The bass is the best part of the mix, for it is present, and it becomes its own entity, its deep and churning line a foundation for the rest of the song. Everything slows down for a trumpet passage, but returns full-force to bring it all around, and the track fades off, all without losing the edge and the ability to make me want to get down and forget everything else.
From here, the album takes off. Thankful N' Thoughtful
is a slow, soulful exposition, complete with a guitar so loaded with wah-wah as to achieve an unattainable level of style, one of its very own. The role of the background singers, the harmony group Little Sisters, is minimal, yet extremely effective in setting the mood. The song If You Want Me to Stay
features the best vocal work on the album, with Sly apologizing to a long-lost love over a bed of the coolest bass line I've ever heard, as well as some mood-making horns. The synth is far from disappointing, and a piano break in-between verses gives this track the superb finishing touch it didn’t need in the first place, but is so, so very welcome.
With their music, the Family tell us, atonally, to keep on dancing. As if to drive their point home even more, they named the grooviest track on the record Keep On Dancin'
. Opening with a nice, low bass, the synth and guitar appear. Now, I can tell that these instruments are present, I just can't tell them from one another, and to be honest I don't really care which is which. This song is just too good to trivialize it with something of that sort. Sly's vocals are amazing here, and the Little Sisters' cry of Dance to the music...
provide the ultimate compliment. The beat here is particularly good, the cymbals shimmer throughout, although it does get drowned out a bit here and there. The music fades, and I am left a little sad that such a fantastic song has ended.
is a crawl of a song, and it is just exudes
sex. A slapped bass and talking guitar act as underlying vocals as Sly speaks ever so sweetly to the listener. Horns return for an encore, and fuzzy piano let it get a foot in the door to join the grind of the song. This groove just makes you want to get with someone and just get nasty, although any feeling of guilt is completely on you. Penance comes in the form of Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)
. This track, an Academy Award-winner that was feature in an Alfred Hitchcock film, is given the Family Stone treatment. The piano and synth combination is lovely, while a bass rolls on in the background. Rose Stone, Sly,s sister, provides the lead vocals on the track, and they are incredibly beautiful. Seemingly, the entire band joins her for the chorus to say that whatever happens, happens. It is one of those universal constants, expressed here wonderfully. A slow-jazz beat continues into the next verse, and the album has reached its pinnacle. The chorus yields another wonderful moment of all-around musicality, pure emotion in the face of all the greasy funk present on the rest of the album. This song could almost pass for a church tune, the organ strikes in background. A bluesy guitar solo puts this thought to rest. One final chorus strikes the heart of the listener, leaving them stricken with calm, as well as astounded at such a monumental track.
There is only one true complaint that I have with Fresh
. The production of the album can, at times, give one or more instruments a little too much prominence. Normally, this isn't a negative aspect at all; however, this leaves other instruments drowned in the mix, almost an afterthought. The drums, at one moment, might bring the ensemble to a high, and a second later be lost in the cacophony of soul and funk to be found on the album. More often than not, this is the fault of Sly, Rose, and the Little Sisters, but it is a truly bittersweet facet to this album.
In short, I consider it a sin for Fresh
, as well as Sly and the Family Stone, to be ignored. Present are moments of ecstatic funk, endless groove, as well as songs that are just plain fun to dance and jive to. Every instrument helps to bring out this sound, and is integral in crafting this niche style for Sly and the gang. While there are a few low points to be seen, this album overall is a monstrously good inclusion in the library of any and all music fans. Get this record, there's no way you'll regret it.
"Keep On Dancin,'" "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"
The instrumentation is beyond spectacular
The mood created by the music is universal, as well as undeniably cool
The production can, at times, drown out certain instruments, ultimately tarnishing the song itself.