Tuesday, July 7, 2009

493. That’s the Way of the world- Like real music only much slower.

Album: That’s the way of the world.
Artist: Earth Wind and Fire.
Year: 1973
Genre: Slow soul

Track listing.
1. Shining Star
2. That's the Way of the World
3. Happy Feelin'
4. All About Love
5. Yearnin' Learnin'
6. Reasons
7. Africano
8. See the Light

Earth Wind and Fire are possibly the biggest band in the world that I knew nothing about. They’ve sold millions of records, been inducted into halls of fame, been cited as influencing whole generations and I couldn’t name a single song. Shame on me.

The encouraging news is that as soon as I gave That’s the Way of the World my first listen I immediately knew track one: Shining Star is a song that you’d know if I sang it, a facility that thankfully this blog doesn’t provide. I won’t sing it but I’ll type it rhythmically which will be enough to make you remember: “You’re a shining star, no matter who you are, shining bright to see, what you can truly be.” To be honest I’ve never understood where funk stops and disco begins, it’s a blurry line as far as I’m concerned but whichever side Shining Star falls it’s pretty cool. It’s actually quite an achievement to give multiple vocalists and a big band a chance to show off in under three minutes without ever losing the song completely. Shining Star promises great things from the album. Sadly it was all down hill from there.

Track two, the album’s title track is half the pace of Shining Star and slows everything down to walking speed. I was hoping it was the disc’s slow number and things would pick up but track three slowed the pace down again. Happy Feelin is obviously about a wedding and it feels to me that it lasts longer than most marriages. It really plods along at a crawl and makes every one of its seven minutes feel like an eternity. I wonder how the drummer manages to stay awake during these sessions.

For the most part the rest of the album continues with slow ballads about love. Earth Wind and Fire are obviously in favour of love and feel they need to take their time to share their feelings at length. Love is a subject that they’re passionate about and they don’t want to rush their ideas by speeding the tempo above six beats a minute. And they’re so passionate about Love that they feel the need to sing about it in a huge variety of registers so the topic is fully covered across the octaves. Reasons features some of the highest pitch singing I’ve heard from a male in a long time. It’s so high it’s actually distracting in a “how does he reach those notes without aid of some kind?” way and almost turns the song into more of a magic trick than a ballad.

One of the lyrical variations occurs at the end of the album when the band sings a song called See the light which as far as I could tell was a call to evangelise Africa. It’s certainly a call to evangelise somewhere and since the track ends with snippets of a field recording of tribal music being played in an African village it’s a fair assumption. But I have to say, if you’re going to talk about converting a nation to your viewpoint it’s probably a wise idea to make your track more interesting than the song your prospective converts are playing. The African villagers are clearly having a fantastic time and if it’s a choice between joining them for a lively jam or slow trudge with EWAF then I’d pack my bags and make tracks to Tanzania.

The only other track that I could get into at all was the Up-tempo instrumental Africano, which sounds more like chase music from a 1970’s cop-show than anything faintly African, but at least it’s not yet another slow ballad about love.

Highlight: Shining Star.
Lowlight: The spoken “rap” in All About Love.
Influenced by: Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and at times the vocal arrangements of the Supremes.
Influenced: Those who like their tunes slow.

Best Amazon Customer review Quote: “If you were born between 1975 and 1976, you were likely conceived to "Reasons." What else is there to say?”

-That’s actually a very easy claim to make and pretty hard to disprove. After all, who in their right mind is going to ask their parents what music was playing while they were conceived? Or any question relating to their conception or the sex lives of their parents? Some questions are best left unasked.

So do Earth, Wind and fire set you on fire or are they just a lot of flaming clods spouting hot hair?

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