Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Machine Gun [Motown, 1974] B+
  • Caught in the Act [Motown, 1975] B
  • Movin' On [Motown, 1975] B-
  • Greatest Hits [Motown, 1978] B-
  • Natural High [Motown, 1978] C-
  • Heroes [Motown, 1980] B
  • In the Pocket [Motown, 1981] B-
  • Anthology [Motown, 1983] B
  • Nightshift [Motown, 1985] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Machine Gun [Motown, 1974]
The first side is good straight hard funk, kicked off by a title instrumental that's the best thing on the record--sure sign of a good straight hard funk band. The second side is acceptable straight hard funk, with some social consciousness thrown in by corporate stablemates Pam Sawyer and Gloria Jones (they even complain that girls are banned from football and boys from sensitivity). But I'll tell you something about hard funk--I prefer mine a little crooked. B+

Caught in the Act [Motown, 1975]
For four songs--two hits, "Slippery When Wet" and "The Bump," surrounded by "Wide Open," which earns its reprise, and an instrumental called "I'm Ready" that's good enough for a theme--they make a case for their funk. I already believed, but the argument is a lot of fun. For the rest of the album they make a case for their soul. I'd be more inclined to believe if they hadn't bothered. B

Movin' On [Motown, 1975]
More--you guessed it--funk. A lot more, in fact, which I wouldn't have guessed. Sometimes anonymous, sometimes even annoying--"Cebu"'s synthesizer, "(Can I) Get a Witness"'s title. Sometimes neither--"Gimme My Mule" is country the way Otis & Carla defined it in "Tramp," and Mary, Mary" is funnier than Michael Nesmith's. Non-funk: "Sweet Love." Hit: "Sweet Love." That I would have guessed. B-

Greatest Hits [Motown, 1978]
One thing you know about a funk band that goes number one with something as sappy as "Three Times a Lady"--they ain't as funky as they used to be. Or maybe they were never really a funk band to begin with--just potential pros who understood funk's entertainment potential the way John Denver understood folk music's. If they perceive any inflammatory potential in rhythm per se, they do what they can to dampen the fire. I love "Brick House," "Machine Gun," and "Slippery When Wet," but they're not even on the same side of this depressing compilation, half of which is devoted to Lionel Richie and his mealy mouth. B-

Natural High [Motown, 1978]
One thing you can figure about a funk band that goes number one with a sappy ballad: they ain't as funky as they used to be. C-

Heroes [Motown, 1980]
With Lionel Richie turning his attentions to inspirational numbers varying the theme "Got to Be Together," with "Jesus" joining William King's "Mighty Spirit" for the finale, this is an improvement. For one thing, most of the brotherhood anthems--which avoid the gender-specific, actually, with lots of "people," "folks," and "y'all"--have a somewhat more rousing beat than "Three Times a Lady." And on the fond "Old-Fashion Love" and the cold-hearted "Sorry to Say," the brothers remind Lionel that this is still supposed to be a funk band. B

In the Pocket [Motown, 1981]
With Lionel readying his farewells, they'd better take care of tunecraft, but only on "Lady (You Bring Me Up)," where William King shares the credit with someone I presume is his wife and someone else I presume is a song doctor, do they give off the signals. Lionel antes up two slow ones, both of which cut the funky competition. B-

Anthology [Motown, 1983]
As this summation makes clear, they never quite connected as a pioneering funk band because their secret weapon was Lionel Richie, who does not number funk among his natural gifts. Beyond him they're a cut above the Johnson Brothers. Richie will be better off without them. And they'll be worse off yet without him. B

Nightshift [Motown, 1985]
Title tune's pretty slick as rock and roll heaven songs go, but ever since Lionel--who they could have used on "The Woman in My Life"--they've been too tame for their own good. A new singer from Heatwave obviously isn't going to change that. When they thank Dennis Lambert "for being so good at what you do," you should remember that what he does is schlock. C+