Music

Earth, Wind & Fire: Open Our Eyes / Spirit

Simon Warner

Wind & Fire

Open Our Eyes

Display Artist: Earth, Wind & Fire
Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2001-04-10
Amazon
iTunes

Earth, Wind & Fire
Spirit
(Columbia/Legacy)
US release date: 10 April 2001

Maurice White
Maurice White
(Columbia/Legacy)
US release date: 10 April 2001

by Simon Warner
earthwindandfire-reissues.jpg
:. e-mail this article
:. print this article
:. comment on this article

As the Sixties turned into the Seventies and the volume of the bass pulse rose in soul, the horn stabs got harder in R&B and a new brand of black music emerged. Credited originally to James Brown and a rhythm dubbed "the One", funk signalled the demise of the pop romances of Motown and the gutsy ballads of Stax. Funk carried a political capital and a cultural cool: as the smoke clouds of Watts cleared, as the killer of Martin Luther King was incarcerated, black singers and musicians assumed the role of social leaders, expressing the frustrations of the urban margins through sounds that made fewer concessions to white audiences.

It wasn't only the Godfather of Soul who saw the insistent backbeat of funk as a means to engage directly with black audiences in Memphis or Atlanta, Los Angeles or New York City; Sly Stone, before his burn out, also utilised the attack of the style to herald a new era of self-confidence, maturity, and resistance in the ghetto. The painstaking negotiations of the Civil Rights movement had delivered a false dawn; it was time to stand up. Funk's passions offered a potent soundtrack for the stand.

Funk came in different shades; the tough funk of Brown and the JBs, the space funk of Clinton and his extraordinary family of players, and a smoother hybrid of funk which managed to retain much of the edge, much of the elan, of the original format, but proved to be a mainstream commercial proposition, too. The finest practitioners of that smooth style were Earth, Wind & Fire, and their chart record in the mid to late 1970s confirmed their crossover credentials.

That said, it was inevitably the hit singles in the US, "Shining Star" and "Sing a Song, and in the UK, "Fantasy" and "September", that constructed the band's public perception. They appeared, in timeless fashion, to adopt the inflections and nuances of a black genre and smooth them down, polish them up, for a much wider listenership. And perhaps that is just what they did do. But singles never tell the whole tale, and these two re-releases, re-mastered and restored, remind us that as an album act, the group displayed an impressive eclecticism, respecting a sizeable range of black traditions. In addition, Open Our Eyes and Spirit feature a sequence of bonus tracks never heard on the original vinyl long players.

Open Our Eyes was the band's 1974 effort which drew a significant response from the critics and the customers. "Mighty Mighty", the opener, is an excellent example of the slick funk E,W&F would perfect. An infectious rhythm track built on a chunky guitar line, riddled with snaking, Sly-like horn refrains, and edged with the multiple vocal harmonies, became their trademark. The next tune, the softer, reflective shades of "Devotion", represents a line of spiritual evangelism that would also prosper, and draw on a rich range of influences such as Christian and African mysticism and particularly the symbolism of Egyptology.

"Drum Song" is a fragile percussion piece which evokes images of the tropical forest, while "Tee Nine Chee Bit" features the kind of street conversation and psychedelic guitar voicings that would have not been out of place on a Parliament gathering. "Spasmodic Movements" is a short sax instrumental that the sweeter end of the jazz community would have welcomed aboard -- mellow yet far from MOR. Of the new songs, "Ain't No Harm to Moan" is as raw a contemporary slave anthem as you're likely to find.

Two years later, Spirit had moved the process up several notches, and its ear-catching repertoire would earn the band their first platinum album. Its high spots are many -- "Getaway", "On Your Face", the epic, "Burnin' Bush" -- even if its bonus tracks are somewhat disappointing. They're two unremarkable re-mixes and little else aside. The record would confirm E,W&F as a world talent, yet its shiny production and its impeccable vocal layering lacks the surprises that Open Our Eyes provides.

At the centre of this phenomenon was the Memphis-born Maurice White, a drummer who'd built an outstanding resumé even before he formed the band that would fulfil his large-scale musical vision in grand style. (That resume includes working with Etta James, Fontella Bass, and Ramsey Lewis.)

In 1985, E,W&F's mastermind took time out to produce his only solo album to date. The eponymously titled collection transfers to CD for the first time here and it is something of a lost treasure. It shares much of the muscular bravado that had by then propelled the group to global fame, yet it must be remembered that it was the unexpected failure of 1983's album "Electric Universe" which led to an extended sabbatical for the band and allowed White the space and time to shape a recording on his own.

The result is certainly a superior affair, with the grandstand curtain-raiser "Switch on Your Radio" worthy of the band at their best. "Believe in Magic" and "Invitation" duplicate the energy, and even a ballad like "I Need You" has enough lush hooks to suggest the song's digital reincarnation could easily prompt a revival -- and no doubt a chart-topper -- in the Backstreet Boys mould, as the boy bands rush to plunder the back catalogue on both sides of the Atlantic.

On Maurice White, the only track that has been rushing to the change mechanism is the singer's take on Ben E.King's "Stand by Me", probably soul's most over-recorded and most over-rated standard. This is a rare lapse of taste on an album that otherwise distils the fervent energy of his group but offers an appealing showcase for White's confident vocal manner. Self-produced, this re-issue is a worthy arrival in the CD racks.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image