[#138 in Rolling Stone's top 500 albums]
With 'Cabbage Alley' (The Meters' first record for Reprise) the band began to smooth out it's sound, moving away form the more down-and-dirty approach of it's earlier releases. This trend continues with the superb 1974 release Rejuvenation. They sound a bit more commercial but boast far stronger and catchier songs and as such, this album is probably the most accessible Meters album and arguably the best one to get as a first purchase. Moving away from their early albums, every track now features vocals (from Art Neville's brother Cyril), are often punctuated by the inclusion of horns and feature more backing vocals.
The album kicks-off with the fantastic 'People Say', an irresistably funky guitar riff that builds up as drums, bass, horns, piano and finally vocals are thrown into the mix. Featuring a great singalong chorus, the track doesn't throw in any solos but rather just lets the groove keep going right through to the outro. A funk classic.
They then switch tone for the second track 'Love is for me'. A slower smoother ballad with some wistfully soulful singing from Cyril:
"Love is for me. You ought to be. Right in my loving arms"
A good ballad, but improved greatly by the addition of some female gospel-sounding backing vocals during the chorus and horns in the second-half of the song. A nice break for the outro of sung "love is for me's" by the choir. A great evening song.
The theme of love is continued into the third track 'Just Kissed my Baby'. Again, a great riff with some beautifully understated funk drumming by Ziggy and again punctuated with a little horn. A couple of nice guitar/bass riff/fills help to build up the groove again. Before a few sung "just kissed my baby's" kicks in after about 3 minutes. Again, some nice little understated fills allow the groove to keep simmering throughout as Ziggy's drums subtely heat up for the outro.
'What'cha say' is another great track. A few slow, sad-sounding guitar-notes start the track before some ultra-funky drumming kicks in for a break. The verses are not the most memorable, but they are relatively short before returning to the original break. The chorus is also one of the best on the album, a series of shout-and-repeat "hey hey hey, what'cha says" It kicks in in the second-half of the track and keeps going to the end complete with superb funk-drumming.
A nice bass riff and the words "Here come da jungle man" lead into the main song, really a series of syncopated funk riffs it's a nice little slower, understated tune that gives a change of tempo before..
Track 7, 'Hey Pocky Away', along with 'People Say' the best song on the album, and released as a single (the two singles are bonus tracks). It's also been covered by the Grateful Dead. A classic drum riff backed-up with piano instantly give this tune away when it comes on in a playlist. It's a superb mid-tempo funk anthem with a great sing-along chorus, the horns blast out some nice notes to bang the song home and good vocals. Always puts me in a great mood:
"Lying back groovin', riding in your car. Don't make no difference, where you are. Feel good music. In your soul. Makes your body, wanna rock 'n' roll ".
From this positive upbeat number there's a nice contrast to the sadder, extended funk-jam of 'Ain't no use'. Clocking in at over 11 minutes this is easily the longest track of the album and gives a chance for the band to show-off what they do best; playing tightly as a group and building grooves.
It opens with a couple of sung verses about wanting to be set free, but the singer knows he "wouldn't last a day". A couple of guitar tracks allow the groove to be maintained whilst Leo solos over the top between verses. Some sung words after the second verse as Leo solos more before the music quietens down, announcing the beginning of the jam at almost 4:30. This is where they get a chance to really show their playing as there are no solos in the previous tracks. The group-playing is great, starting with piano before kicking into guitar. Ziggy continues to provide a funk-drumming 101 class, and understated piano chords keep the groove going throughout and the individual musicians never ruin the groove with over-the-top flashy playing.
'Loving You is on my Mind' contrasts with this as it's a far more positive, poppier song. Probably the least funky of the album, it does have a great little guitar solo by Leo but generally this is the weakest of the tracks. Has a nice little chinese outro on the piano as the music fades though.
Finally, Africa. Talking about going "back to the motherland" it's a nice groovy tune, again with great drumming and understated riffs and some subtle organ helping to build the groove. The bass is a bit more prominent here, and although there are no really flashy riffs, that's not really what The Meters are about. The groove does sound instantly classic and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see it sampled in a rap song.
[The two bonus tracks are single versions of 'Hey Pocky A-Way' and 'People Say'. In the AMG track listings it puts 'People Say' first, although this seems to be a mistake as on my CD 'Hey Pocky A-Way' comes first.]
Overall then? Some great grooves, a smooth sound and good vocals. The material is pretty much excellent throughout and does contain a couple of true funk classics. Probably worth 4.5/5, but as we can't yet include halves I've gone for 5 stars as I was always told to round-up in maths class. The opening immediately sucks you in and the playing never lets up. The drumming is excellent, riffs classic and the guys play as a group, never losing sight of the fact that funk is about the groove. As a result they don't try and overwhelm you with their flash but play as a group all the way through. A fantstic introduction to The Meters and a great album from a band that deserves much more widespread recognition.