Last year, when "Le Freak," Chic's self-advertisement, dominated the charts, it seemed like a fluke. But now it's obvious that "Le Freak" is one of the goofiest and funniest singles of this dull decade -- one can hear the song 50 times and not be able to pinpoint its hypnotic appeal.
But whereas "Le Freak" was primarily a dance song to the nth degree, Chic's latest hit single, "Good Times," is something far more substantial, for it offers a message of optimism counter to the current rage of kicking dead dogs down the sidewalk of depression. The bright joy of "Good Times" breaks through all the phony inflation and howdy-doody revivalism, encouraging the listener to admit. "Hey, good times are whatever you make 'em, so. . .let's dance!"
I haven't heard in a millennium more spiritually uplifting lines than these from "Good Times" -- "Don't be a drag, participate/Clams on the half shell and rollerskates, rollerskates."
"Risque," Chic's third album, includes not only the happy "Good Times," but an abundance of inspiring music guaranteed to motivate a veritable symphony of pelvic distortion on any dance floor. On quick listen, and it's easy to hear why all cuts from the album are currently climbing the disco charts.
The key to Chic's entrancing sound is Nile Rodgers' guitar work and Rodgers/Bernard Edwards' sweeping production. This team's devotion to detail was not apparent on Chic's cliche-hit, "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)," but with "I Want Your Love," possibly Chic's greatest tune, Edwards & Rodgers' craftsmanship hit its stride. "I Want Your Love" is an auto-erotic song produced with elegant touches -- cascading strings, Spectorish bells, a percolating guitar -- so suggestive that it melts into ultra-chic porn.
"Risque," though, is easily Edwards & Rodgers' most tuneful construction to date. (A close second: their work on Sister Slege's "We Are Family"). "Warm Summer Night" offers a smooth dreamscape with Rodgers' guitar riff rolling beneath the song's surface of rippling silk. "My Forbidden Lover" is so downright sexy, who needs sensual bliss? And, following in the rich tradition of mid-'60s girl-group records, "Will You Cry (When You Hear This Song)" is beautiful sap that promises to ooze all over one's truntable.
In short, "Risque" is a real charmer, disco or otherwise, infinitely replayable and produced with patience, restraint and all-round good taste.
Chic's Niles Rodgers is an admitted fan of Mick Ronson, David Bowie's ex-guitarist, who produced "In Style," the latest album by David Johansen, ex-vocalist/songwriter for the legendary New Yrok Dolls. Yet Chic and Johansen have more in common that a mutual affinity for Mick Ronson, for Johansen shares Chic's ability to assume the cool pose. Both Chic and Johansen are stylishly nonchalant, at ease with their music, effortlessly patterned after the subway rhythms of metropolitan life.
On David Johansen's first solo album (a simple, sparsely produced endeavor that could have passed as the third album by the defunct Dolls), many songs point in the direction of In Style ("Funky But Chic," "Cool Metro"). But none more so than "Frenchette." With this song, Johansen essentially offers the identical message of Chic's "Good Times" -- "You call that lovin' French but it's just Frenchette/ I've been to France so let's just dance."
As an album, "In Style" may not be as raw or as innocent as Johansen's initial solo work, but it is fuller in sound and scope, more exciting, and a better dance record to boot. Johansen, a great admirer of Frank Sinatra (and Howard Tate), has lost none of his impeccable phrasing, he croons better than Iggy Pop, and his aim is deadlier than Mick Jagger's.
"In Style" opens with the factory boom of Motown, a song entitled "Melody." "Justine" is a lavish "Frenchette, prompting a reverie complete with goose bumps; "You Touched Me Too," a classy folk-rocker in the tradition of P. F. Sloan; "Wreckless Crazy," a wild and loose return to the Dolls.
In concert, Johansen often performs Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff," because, as he says, it's a great rock 'n' roll song. Consequently, he has made his contribution to the growing genre of rock-disco with "Swaheto Woman," a full-bodied recording every bit as catchy as "Heart of Glass" or "Miss You."
But the hottest song on "In Style" is "She," as boldly uncompromising in stance as any song by the Dolls. It refers to a woman who is spreading malicious rumors on the street about the singer's supposed impotence. The singer responds to the senak attack with a clenched fist, and Johansen sings this angry response as if he were getting clobbered with a crowbar:
I think therefore I hate./ Ain't, ain't gonna holler, ain't gonna faint./ Ain't gonna sing with no stool-pigeon choir./ You're a pretty little girl, but you're a liar./ And your lies can't disguise your desire.
David Johansen, like his idol Sinatra, is so sure of himself that he doesn't have to pose. The photos for the "In Style" sleeve were shot by Richard Avedon, but they could have been by Mr. Magoo and Johansen still would have looked cool. On "Famingo Road," the final six minutes of the album, Johansen sings about a place where "people walk around with hundred-dollar shoes on their feet," a rambling opus about losing one's soul on the trash heap, a brilliant example of Johansen's astute ability to transform even trashiness into something chic.