Out of the many bands to come of the UK post punk/new wave era,Level 42 were probably the most significant on a purely musical level. American funk,R&B and disco-dance music were an important element of early 80’s new wave in Europe. But Level 42,led by electric bassist/one time drummer Mark King and keyboardist Mike Lindup,came straight of a strong jazz-funk/fusion underground that was still thriving in Europe during the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Their style celebrated strong musicianship over the flamboyant rock ‘n roll authenticity of the UK punk scene-full of raw,angry emotion. Still this devotion to musical eloquence had it’s shortcomings for Level 42.
While the band were critically acclaimed on their first few albums from 1981 and 1982? Their label Polydor,interestingly enough the same label James Brown had been on during his funk heyday in the early 70’s, were looking at Level 42 as consistent hit makers. And having met them while on tour,the band developed a strong musical report with Earth Wind & Fire’s bassist Verdine White and the bands keyboardist Larry Dunn. Both of them were very able at creating funk music that was melodic and commercially popular. And it was agreed they would produce Level 42’s fourth album in 1983. That album was called Standing In The Light. And it was likely best personified musically by it’s title song.
Starting off with a light breeze of drum cymbal-seemingly carrying a wind of bassy synth orchestration on it,the song quickly emerges with an economical slow funk beat accompanied by an equally economical,minor chord electric bass line from King. After a jazzy guitar solo takes over Lindup’s,or possibly unofficial fifth member Wally Badarou’s ethereal synthesizer harmonies King’s lead vocals kick on. On the chorus,the instrumentation suddenly enters into a sunnier end of the minor chord with Lindup’s falsetto vocals. There’s a bridge in the middle of the song where the keyboard plays a progressive jazz fusion styled ascending two-chord solo which includes a jazz oriented vocal refrain from King and Lindup’s vocal harmonies. After this the song goes through one more chorus of the same one with which it started.
Musically influenced to a great degree by the electronic oriented pop/funk hybrids emerging from Compass Point around this time,this song is musically representative of the type of stripped down funk that emerged from the post funk environment. Yet also comes from a reverence for the modal style of fusion pioneer Miles Davis-whom Mike Lindup musically admired and who had a huge influence on his compositional style.It’s the nature of the music and lyrical mixture on this song that speaks most to me on the other hand. This song tells the story of a young man whose approach to music comes from imagination and creativity,and many around him want to subsidize that with their own personal tastes,needs and requirements.
As the chorus grows happier,this inner creativity becomes an inner light he’s standing in as he asks for people not to “shadow the genius”. It’s a poetic,intelligent yet plain spoken statement for creative autonomy and freedom of expression-coming from a decade where supposedly such ideas were totally limited. And to me,it’s one of the most significant rallying cries to creative musicians from this point onward. Considering that two key members of Earth Wind & Fire produced this album,it’s not surprising that Level 42 felt a bit freer to write music with a message as their sound became more outreaching to the public. And if I could personally thank all parties for their participation in this song and it’s message personally? I’d be more than honored.