Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chic Decides to "Take It Off" in the '80's

Before the "demise" of disco, Chic was one of the most popular acts of the movement. Their mannered soul had become a new brand of cool. Thick slabs of bass, juicy guitar riffs, dense string sections, and stately vocalizing defined the Chic sound.

Chic members, the late Bernard Edwards (bass) and Nile Rodgers (guitar), wrote and produced for others to ensure their sound existed beyond Chic.

Sadly, once the deposed white-rock power usurped the R&B/disco hold on the mainstream charts and radio Chic, like other black acts at the time, were instantly contained within the R&B sphere only. That audience continued to show affection and attention to their last four albums: Real People (1980), Take It Off (1981), Tongue in Chic (1982), and Believer (1983). Released 11/16/81, Take It Off remains the watermark of Chic's '80's output.

Leading the production and writing duties as before, Rodgers and Edwards constructed a lean album with emphasis placed on live instrumentation with a few electronic ruffles. This contemporary glazing of their trademark coiffed sound revealed Chic could adapt to the changing R&B soundscape.  To this end, Chic member and drummer (the late) Tony Thompson (along with additional percussionists Sammy Figueroa, Roy Maldonado, Roger Squitero) laid down a strong beat foundation for Rodgers and Edwards' elastic wickedness to get evil on. Most importantly, it framed the sublime songstresses Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin.

Take It Off blasted off with the stop-start strut "Stage Fright," also the only single from the long player. The heat stayed up on the fussy funk tantrum of "Burn Hard." A fiery dance tune with searing tenor sax, trumpet, and flugel horn busted loose, Anderson and Martin skated on the cut with the hook: "Slap your face, burn hard, burn hard! Work out!"

The warmth of "So Fine" had all of Chic's members doing a collected, silky harmony on the chorus. Later on, "So Fine" became a sample staple for British soul vocalist Beverley Knight in her hit "Made It Back" from her '98 effort Prodigal Sista. The somber shuffler "Just Out of Reach," a duet between Edwards and Martin, is a forgotten Chic hit that never was. "Your Love Is Cancelled," a playful fusion of synth-pop and funk, jumped around next to the dependable kick-push urban dance of "Would You Be My Baby."

In all, Take It Off marked a continual commercial plight for Chic as sales continued to diminish. The album charted at #124 (U.S. Pop) and #35 (U.S. R&B), the latter betrayed a dent to their popularity at urban radio. While decidedly friendly to Chic, the black music began moving toward the up-and-coming sounds of black music on the horizon. The single "Stage Fright" was a small U.S. R&B hit, it slinked in at #35.

Chic's next two records followed a similar commercial fate before the original line-up disbanded in 1983. Both Rodgers and Edwards transitioned into crafting hits for Deborah Harry, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Jody Watley, and Madonna.  Take It Off was remastered in 2006 through Wounded Bird Records, a testament to the cult following the record garnered. Take It Off demonstrated that even when the chips were down, that Chic posture was unstoppable. Also, who doesn't love Tony Wright's illustration of Chic's members on the album cover? Five out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: This album, as mentioned, is readily in print and can be found in most independent retailers or online.-QH]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

IMO Chic left an indelible mark in American music. There music has stood the test of time and never feels dated. The genius of Nile and Bernard is equivalent to any other super producers of our time. Hopefully if their not already recognized, they will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.