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"Fire It Up" Review
02/01/11 9:44 pm
Melody Maker, Dec 15, 1979. "Still On The Loose" by Peter Wingfield.


The self-styled King of Punk Funk appears on the sleeve of his third consecutive U.S. chart busting album in a skin tight,all-white outfit with matching thigh-high boots, spliff in hand, a black guy with shoulder-length under an initialed, jewel studded Stetson, intertwined on the back cover with two lithe young ladies, one black, one white, toy love gun pointed provocatively crutch to crutch. Subtle stuff, huh? Oh— and his second hit, "Mary Jane," was a thinly veiled paean to the Weed. The backsingers are cheekily named "The Colored Girls," he wrote a smash for his own (blonde) ladyfriend Teena Marie titled "I'm Just A Sucker For Your Love," and his "autograph" on the inner sleeve reads simply:"Funk me... Rick James."

You get the picture, the "outlaw" image of the young barbarian, into funkin' anything that moves has been painstakingly fostered so that his success is down as much to marketing as it is to music. And it's worked— the last album, "Bustin' Out of L Seven," sold hugely on reputation alone, without benefit of a hit single. It's ironic for prissy old Motown, bastion of the black establishment, that their hottest solo act should be a while and crazy guy whose watchword, if someone else hadn't got to it first, would surely be"Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll."

I saw Rick recently on "Soul Train" (black America's TGTP) jiving the show's supercool host, Don Cornelius, claiming his brand of punk funk was a whole new thing, the big rock/soul crossover (remember that Cornelius's audience are profoundly ignorant of rock in all its forms— to them "new wave" might be a ladies hair-do, and they'd not be remotely impressed by James's pedigree as member of the Mynah Birds with Neil Young in the Sixties).

Fact  is, of course, that the music of producer/writer/singer/keyboardist/guitarist Rick and his Stone City Band is simply timely, derivative, high-energy modern funk, with the odd burst of screaming guitar: he's no musical heavyweight, and the songs are pastiches of current styles, but he knows who to emulate for a commercial result; and, having made it, he sure as hell knows how to sell it.

Sensibly,the first two cuts are the deepest: "Fire It Up" is a funk broadside,a plainly Clinton-inspired groove thang, and "Love Gun" is a winner beyond the obvious double-entendre, driven by a relentless guitar riff, handclaps to the max, and a lot of fun.

Of the rest, "Come Into My Life" piles on the funk/sex angle, with the girls spelling out"c...o...m...e"; a short "Stormy Love" is best forgotten—it's a cringe-making recitatif on lost-love with Rick inexplicably adopting a cod British-accent and coming unstuck; "Love In The Night" is a slowie, a mite schlocky, and the closer, "When Love Is Gone,"outstays its welcome— it's an overblown ballad, with some rock guitar midway I could have done without.

A gold album, for sure; R.J. may be a second-leaguer, but he's got a nice line in self-promotion. I hope he tours here soon.



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