With the positive reception the 1987 album Touch the World and it’s three successful singles received? The newly reinvigorated Earth Wind & Fire were back in the studio beginning the recording for their follow up album the very next year. Of course one critical thing happened to be a huge game changer in 1988: the emergence of Teddy Riley with his group Guy and productions for Keith Sweat,Al B. Sure and Bobby Brown. The quick tempo hip-hop friendly shuffle of new jack swing had arrived. Essentially the soul/funk community was exiting the electro/boogie/synth groove of the mid 1980’s and entering essentially into the modern era-one where heavy electronic hip-hop/pop based productions would be the mainstream for contemporary R&B-as it would come to be called. Maurice White actually saw a positive in this-an opportunity to showcase a younger generation learning the same cultural lessons and values that fueled Maurice’s vision for EWF in the first place. The result finally emerged,and quite appropriately in 1990 with this album.
“Soweto” opens and closes the album with a strong African percussion Kalimba based melody. “Takin’ Chances” goes into a bluesy horn packed electro go-go style funk jam that essentially updates the production of a rather “Shining Star” style song. “Good Times”,featuring a very vocally chocked and quite rare guest vocal from Mister Sly Stone himself is a very fast paced house funk type groove with a great deal of wah wah guitars and choir vocals from the band itself. The title song is a well crafted hip-hop friendly track with the boy band The Boys that features a wonderfully jazzy classic EWF style refrain. The two collaborations with MC Hammer in “Wanna Be The Man” and “For The Love Of You” showcase not only Hammer’s total embrace of live band funk backing up his raps but his genuine respect for EWF’s creative vision as well. “Anything You Want” is very much a layered drum machine mid-tempo ballad. The heavily electronically orchestrated “Daydreamin” and “Welcome” are both classic style EWF ballads where the electronics actually get the flavor of real string an horn charts pretty well.
The hard driving electro funk of the bass/guitar build “King Of Groove”,making no bones about the difference between a creative musical vision and chasing fame THROUGH music and the similarly styled instrumentation of “Motor” are musically the closest to the previous album,and were likely recorded close to that time as well-earlier in the sessions for this album. When I first heard this album? I was pretty underwhelmed by new soul/R&B/funk of the early/mid 90’s being populated by seemingly dry sounding hip-hop/new jack swing style rhythms almost 99% of the time. At the time? It would appear that Columbia,EWF’s decades long mainstay received the album in a similar way that the public did at the time,including myself,that EWF had essentially sold out to a trend that seemed musically beneath them. And EWF were consequently and sadly dropped from the label. What I realize listen to this today is that,while it’s not as fresh and crisp as it’s predecessor? This is actually an incredibly funky album. It updates the rhythms for the hip-hop/pop era yes. But the beats and rhythms are essentially classic EWF under all the programming and such. It might be wise for those who are still naysayers to this album to revisit it. Might find a pretty well done album,full of sometimes powerful grooves,if one re-listens without prejudice.
Originally Written On December 18th,2014