Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Remember dancing in September

Play it: Earth Wind & Fire Illumination

(RHAPSNOTE: The tracks are misnamed and in wrong order - I've mapped the true names of the songs in comments.)
We can't technically call this a comeback, as Earth Wind & Fire already did that with '97's In the Name of Love and 2003's The Promise, which were both fairly well received, so let's call it a rebirth, however long in the tooth these Chicago vets are now. The core is still there of vocalists Maurice White and Phillip Baily, only for Illumination they've retooled their approach to the neo-soul sound of many contemporary artists like Musiq, D'Angelo, Angie Stone, Raphael Saadiq and Floetry. These last two make guest appearances on the album, along with Will.I.Am (Black Eyed Peas,) Kelly Rowland (Destiny's Child,) Sleepy Brown (Outkast,) and Brian McKnight.

The gamble to update their sound pays off, as EWF sound more vital on this record they have since their heyday in the 70's. "Pure Gold" early on signals that while they've updated their sound, they still will ride a great Phillip Baily crooned groove. Since EWF influenced most neo-soul and, especially, guest artists on the album, the songs exhibit a truly symbiotic relationship that is best exemplified in the track "Show Me The Way" (featuring Raphael Saadiq,) which both sounds both like classic 70's EWF and fresh in today's R&B ears, and Saadiq is a perfect fit for the task. Even Sleepy Brown's rap on the next track "This is How I Feel" doesn't feel out of place, especially when followed up by Kelly Rowland's chorus. And if it isn't obvious that the boys from Outkast were influenced by EWF, it's more apparent in their (however misguided) cover of Outkast's (and Snoopy Brown's) "The Way You Move," which unfortunately gets a smooth jazz lacquer with the abominable Kenny Gorelick (nee G.) sappy sax solo throughout. I'd further fix the track order issue by eliminating that song from your Rhapsody list, but I suppose it's alright hearing at least once to get the gist.

Of course it's fitting that we talk about Earth Wind & Fire today, as they sing in their biggest hit to date (and at the Emmys Sunday night:)
Do you remember the 21st night of September?
Love was changing the minds of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away

- "September" Earth Wind & Fire
Play it: "September"
And while there's no songs equal to "September" on Illumination, I recommend taking this new EWF model out for a spin this 21st night of September - as while it's got a nice rearview mirror to see the past, the headlights shine brightly on what's ahead.

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1 comment:

drake leLane said...

Tracklisting and corrections:

Earth Wind & Fire - Illumination

* "The One" - is actually "Pure Gold"
* "Lovely People" - is actually "A Talking Voice (Interlude)"
* "Pure Gold" -- is actually "Love's Dance"
* "Love's Dance" - is actually "Show Me The Way"
* "Show Me The Way" - is actually "This Is How I Feel"
* "This Is How I Feel" - is actually "Work It Out"
* "Work It Out" - is actually "Pass You By"
* "Pass You By" - is actually "The One"
* "Elevated" - this one is correct
* "To You" - is actually "Liberation"
* "The Way You Move - (with Kenny G, featuring Philip Bailey/Maurice White)" - this one is correct