Monday, April 18, 2016

Mandrill - 1978 - New Worlds

New Worlds

01. Too Late
02. Mean Streets
03. Having a Love Attack
04. Don't Stop
05. Third World Girl
06. Stay Tonite
07. When You Smile
08. It's So Easy Lovin' You

- Carlos Wilson / trombone, vocals
- Lou Wilson / trumpet, vocals
- Ric Wilson /sax, vocals
- Dougie Rodriguez / guitar
- Claude Coffee Cave / keyboards
- Fudgie Kae Solomon / bass
- Neftali Santiago / drums

Their second album for Arista, 1978's New Worlds was Mandrill's self-produced and updated plunge into more mainstream waters. Hoping, perhaps, to capitalize on some of the disco gold that propelled much lesser musicians to the top of the charts, many of the songs on New Worlds have an infectious groove and panache more suited to the dancefloor than to the fusion lounge inhabited by the band's longtime fans. And, even though the set is still smooth, slick, and fastidious, ultimately the album foundered because of the change. Both "Having a Love Attack" and "Don't Stop" became club staples, although any presence on the R&B charts totally eluded both singles. That honor was given to the jazzy and smoothly R&B flavored "Don't Stop." Just a little over three-and-a-half minutes long, the song was radio-friendly in both size and scope. Opening with a taste of the era's ubiquitous strings, and playing out like some soft soul hit, it may have scored the band a Top 40 R&B hit, but it soured with fans, who had come to expect so much more. However, that's not to say there aren't a few fine nuggets to be found as both "Mean Streets" and "Third World Girl" pick up the slack. By this late in the game, Mandrill had certainly lost some of their initial sizzle, while various members had come and gone, furthering the disintegration of the style that drove their early heyday. And, sadly, all this is reflected across New Worlds. It may have been part of a new era for the band, but sadly, for many, New Worlds was just tired.

Despite its "prog artwork" cover and hope-inducing album title, New Worlds was anything but proggy despite some tracks being technically impressive funk, but on the whole the album is a big deception for demanding music fans. Mandrill, like most other US "coloured groups" (can't really call them "black", since there are Latino/Puerto-Ricans in their ranks), they fell in the disco trap that engulfed many decent funk groups like Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang (listen to their early 70's stuff to see how proggy they were) and many others, they happily obliged to follow the example of Chic's mix of sometimes-excellent super-funk and downright disgusting binary-disco ala Donna Summer etc? The only groups resisting that trend was WAR and Clinton's Funkadelic.
Sure, there are remains of the former Mandrill with some (few) good tracks, (there is even one with a decent flute intervention) but the album is mostly filled of soul/Motown ballads (the opening Too Late & When You Smile) filled with those luscious Philadelphia-based string arrangements (instead of mellotrons), some ultra-funk but disco-ing tracks (Mean Streets, Love Attack & Stay Tonite) with typical horn section but often marred with an horrible binary disco beat (which is an oxymoron with good funk, if you ask me) and downright-awful straight disco tracks (Don't Stop & Easy Loving You). There is even a Latino/Bossa track (Third World Girl), but it only brings the listener to more regrets of what the group became.

When I speak of this binary rhythm, I am mostly thinking of the 1-2 tempos invented for the most hopeless and sorriest excuses of dancing white males to get them too boogie on a dance floor), but in Mandrill and Chic's case, this basic rhythm is often deceptively simple, because behind that beat is often a lot more complex rhythm than it appears at first glance:audition. In any case, certainly not Mandrill's best works, and better avoided unless you actually like the 70's disco scene.

1 comment: