Review Summary: The culmination of all things Earth, Wind & Fire. Clever experimentation, accomplished songwriting, all combined into one seamless listening experience.
Beautiful. Energetic. Professional. Sincere. Superbly written. All epithets and phrases that can be used to describe the sixth outing of the acclaimed group. Definitely one of the high-points of the 70’s funk/soul/R&B scene, it encompasses everything the band was known for (the frenetic rockers, the sorrowful ballads, the experimentation etc.) at the right amount without compromises.
The key in appreciating the album lies in seeing this as a summary
of the band’s career. There are no new ideas here; the production is in the same “clean” tradition of their mid/late 70’s material, the arrangements are, as usual, rich and lush, while no new band members debut here. Rather, this is an album where there is enough experience within the group in order to make a polished album, but the glossy trends of late 70’s soul/R&B are yet to be found in the music world. Thus, this means the band needs to worry only about its actual song-craft.
Thankfully, the group was always a strong songwriting force since its inception, but they fire on all cylinders here. The splendid vocal hooks and harmonies, the trademark of the ensemble, are all prominent here, with Philip Bailey at the absolute height of his mellow and heart-wrenching delivery, but what about the instrumental melodies" As far as riffs go, the opener’s rollicking guitar figure is sure to excite and grab the listener by the collar. On the other hand, the title track and Reasons
offer impeccably smooth keyboard lines under powerful, yet economic string sections that manage to boost the emotional response of the ballads without sounding forced or sappy.
The brass section is also a marvel to listen to; subdued and melodious on the plaintive tunes, but absolutely vigorous on the up-tempo songs. Case in point, the booming lines that embellish the already lively Yearnin’ Learnin’
. Another major highlight is Happy Feelin’
with its incredible saxophone licks, which appear sporadically until their breath-taking merging with the soaring guitars and the mystifying kalimba during the interlude. A few years earlier, the band would have probably placed this kind of passage into some instrumental piece, leaving this tightly written rocker “undressed”, much like Remember The Children
from Last Days And Time
But at this point in their careers, they were too experienced to do that. They suddenly realized that they shouldn’t divide experimentation from traditional songwriting, a decision that occurred for two main reasons. First, they weren’t great with improvisation; they mostly incorporated short solo spots for the band members and when they went free-form on their lengthy instrumentals, the soloing was not that inspired. Second, the experimentation was beginning to stagnate; because of said limitations and because they focused more on the “real” songs (as a “Top 40” group), they began to rehash ideas. As a result, their instrumentals were either: a) fast, kalimba-driven, b) Latin, Santana-esque or c) jazzy interludes that featured, nonetheless, interesting bits and ideas, but never amounted to more than pleasant background music.
Which is exactly why the closing See The Light
is such a winner. It features an unorthodox rhythm section as well as several shifts and breaks throughout, eerie Moog solo spots, saxophones, kalimbas, but what makes all worthwhile is that instead of stuffing this tune with generic soloing, the band does what it does best, which is spell-binding harmonies and attention-grabbing choruses. This is also why Africano
fails to make an impression; it’s happy being a mindless “kalimba jam”, like so many before in the band’s career and there is simply too much great material here to care about it.
In conclusion, this is the quintessential Earth, Wind & Fire release. Brimming with musical ideas, it combines every facet of the group into terrific songs
, which was the band’s strongest side all along and never bores or underwhelms, so be sure to make this your first foray into the group’s discography.