Review Summary: A landmark funk album
A lot of people say that they play funk. A lot of people attest to have 'the groove', and insist they know how to 'feel the beat'. Well, James Brown (a.k.a The Godfather of Soul, The Hardest Working Man in Showbiz) knew what REAL funk was. And this, one of his finest recording achievements, is the benchmark by which all subsequent records labeled 'funk' must be measured by.
James Brown's recorded studio material, with some exceptions, was frustratingly unbalanced. He had a wealth of superior material, to which was applied twice as much filler. Brown's personality and power is best sampled through his live albums. They didn't call him 'The Hardest Working Man in Showbiz' for nothing. During the sixties, Brown would play upward of 300 gigs per year, which is three times as many as most big acts of modern times (for example the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one band who took considerable influence from this album) do on a headlining stadium tour. During this, he cultivated his following, refined his stage act and learned how to REALLY put on a show. As a result, by this point, he was an electric live performer and his band were equally as incredible. It's not surprising, therefore, that The Payback was cut as a live album. The key to this album is therein: it shows off the skills of Brown and crew as a live act, while providing a great crop of tunes with which to show their prowess.
We begin with the best known track of the Payback. In the funk world, 'The Payback' is ubiquitous. Brown's feisty ode to revenge, it has the distinction of being among the most hypnotic funk jams of all time. Brown is on top form, wailing and making fiery statements of vengeance, while his band sustain the momentum throughout the seven minutes flawlessly. The opening, a stop-start build up of horns and high, soulful backing vocals segue seamlessly into the main phrase, which is repeated over and over again. When seven minutes passes like three, you know you're dealing with a classic.
Beginning with such a well-known track can sometimes render the rest of the album overshadowed. But the other songs are a fair bit better than the other notoriously mediocre material that sometimes cluttered James Brown albums. The following tune, 'Doing the Best As I can' is equally impassioned, its soft blues and cutting hooks piercing like a thin blade. 'Shoot Your Shot's irrepressible energy is a particular highlight, with a jumpy rhythm and some of the most inspired interplay between the band yet. Not even the longest jam, the jazzy stroll (or sprint) of 'Time Is Running Out Fast', feels overlong or boring.
James Brown would hit a fallow period after this remarkable record. But this is an absolute corker: the virtuoso talents and vitality of the band plus the energy and lyrics of the main man himself give no hint at all as to what was to come. And for that, we should be thankful.
Download: The Payback, Shoot Your Shot, Mind Power