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2.81 | 7 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1973


A1 In Time 5:47
A2 If You Want Me To Stay 3:03
A3 Let Me Have It All 2:56
A4 Frisky 3:10
A5 Thankful N' Thoughtful 4:40
B1 Skin I'm In 2:53
B2 I Don't Know (Satisfaction) 3:51
B3 Keep On Dancin' 2:23
B4 Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be) 5:20
B5 If It Were Left Up To Me 1:58
B6 Babies Makin' Babies 3:38

Total Time: 39:43


Sly Stone - keyboards, vocals
Freddie Stone - guitar
Rose Stone - piano, vocals
Jerry Martini - saxophone
Rusty Allen - bass
Cynthia Robinson - trumpet
Andy Newmark - drums
Pat Rizzo - saxophone
Little Sister - background vocals

About this release

Epic ‎– KE 32134 (US)

Thanks to Chicapah, snobb for the updates


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Well known amongst aficionados of the funk, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Fresh” took the funk in a ‘fresh’ new direction. Instead of basing the jams on a repeating melodic bass line, Sly and his crew open up the texture and feature a structure where all the musicians interact with short little riffs and accents that intersect in sometimes mind boggling sound kaleidoscopes. The painting term, ‘pointillistic’ could apply here, in which many small events stand on their own to create an ensemble whole. Not everything on here is advanced scientific future funk, Sly’s old school good times RnB still shows up on a few tracks, but for the most part, “Fresh”, holds up to its name with some exciting new directions in music.

This album takes syncopation to new levels, which makes it surprising that the drummer on board, Andy Newmark, is a rock session drummer not usually known for playing in this style. How well he performs is somewhat mysterious as he is mixed very low and his playing is sometimes assisted by a drum machine. Its up to the other players to produce the timing to pull this off and they do a great job, particularly bassist Rusty Allen, who had some mighty big shoes to fill when highly influential and innovative original bassist Larry Graham left to start his own band. How good the rest of this ensemble is at finding their place in the mix is on full display on the album opener, “In Time”, cheekily named as the musicians stay in time while adding little hits and riffs that never collide and always surprise as we wonder how do they do this.

Lyrically this album is also a whole new bag for Sly as he leaves behind the feel good anthems of his late 60s work and embraces the ambiguities of the 70s. Many of these songs feature abstract word play that might be hard to pin down, but can still be interesting and amusing. Musically Sly also introduces new structures in which one rhythmic idea repeats for the whole song without any need for verse/chorus type constructs. When applied correctly, this sort of African approach carries a lot of strength. Most of these tracks are excellent, but some might take exception to Sly’s over wrought vocals on “Que Serra Serra” and “Let Me Have it All”.
After indulging in a little research I’ve come to realize that many well-respected musicians (Miles Davis, Brian Eno and George Clinton to name a few) plus a handful of renowned critics consider this album a game-changing masterpiece of funk. I’d like to say I agree with them but I’m just not that big of a liar. Purchased somewhere in the Nebraska plains in the middle of a club tour the week it was released in June of ‘73, I didn’t care for it then and still don’t. I deem Sly and The Family Stone to be authentic, worthy-of-praise pioneers of funky rock R&B due to the brilliance of their early albums and singles. However, I couldn’t latch on to the muddled “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” and when I learned that Larry Graham had left the fold I sensed their glory days were over. Despite my ominous premonition and because the advance buzz about “Fresh” was positive I took a chance and picked it up in hopes the band would prove me wrong. They didn’t. In fact, they only confirmed my suspicions that the scourge of drugs had claimed another victim. Cocaine and PCP might not have put Sly in the grave but they effectively killed his creativity and his reputation all the same.

Losing one of the world’s finest rhythm sections between albums dealt a fatal blow to the group’s foundation. Graham’s replacement was some cat by the name of Rusty Allen and the capable Andy Newmark took over the drum stool vacated by Greg Errico yet their earnest attempts fell short. Sly’s sleek automobile had luxurious amenities and fancy rims but no gasoline to power it. Does the album have a unique sound? Yes, it’s definitely different. Does unique and different necessarily translate into being good? Not always, and I present this disc as evidence. What I loved most about them on records like their phenomenal “Stand” was the exuberant energy and joyous exultation they put into their music. It literally leaped off the vinyl into the room and pulled you up off the couch to join in their celebration of freedom from stifling tradition. Yet no matter how many times I played “Fresh” over the decades I was never able to discern even a trace of that spirit; the indomitable spirit that brought me to their party in the first place. Without it they were just another California band with nasty habits.

“In Time” starts the record out on a good note, though. Sly’s minimalist approach is very interesting upon being exposed to it initially. The flat, unadorned production brings all the instrumentation and vocals right up front. The basic track is squeaky tight with quick stabbing jabs from the background singers, organ and guitar blending together to form an intertwined, cohesive tapestry. The confusing lyrics, however, are another story. They reveal the thoughts of a brain addled by foreign substances. “There’s a method in the madness of the thinking/in time, oh we oughta/ it seems the best of all the sadness is a sinkin’/in time, muddy water,” he croons. Unfortunately, that number is the last of the pleasant surprises for a long spell. The repeating chord pattern behind “If You Want Me To Stay” grows old in a hurry and Sly’s decision to speed up his vocal track makes him sound like Alvin the Chipmunk as he chirps lines like “you can’t take me for granted and smile/count the days I’m gone/forget reaching me by phone/because I promise I’ll be gone for a while.” The problem is that he’s spending too much time away from his keyboards and his poetic common sense, if you ask me. “Let Me Have It All” follows and the disturbing lack of imagination in Sly’s songwriting and lyric-penning is fast becoming an Albatross draped around the neck of this project. Corny near-rhymes like “you set up a barrier/don’t you know I’d marry ya” are downright embarrassing. While the Godfather of soul could get away with this kind of stuff, Mr. Stone ain’t James Brown. The “hardest working man in show business” injected red-hot pizzazz into his funky ruts and his electrically-charged, spontaneous outbursts kept you anticipating what was coming next. This song just made we wonder when it would end.

“Frisky” is anything but and at this point the constant, unwavering sameness in the instrumentation being employed and in the album’s overall ambience shifts it into the realm of boredom. “Energy the jailor/wanna keep it in check/gonna check with my tailor/’cause I don’t give a heck,” he slurs. Sorry, but this is anything but fresh. When “Thankful N’ Thoughtful” arrives it occurs to me that Sly had surrounded himself with too many yes men because someone with balls should’ve sternly informed him that this was just the same tired old crap with an alternate tempo. “Oh, something gets me, hah/put my head on tight/because I know the future/everything’ll be all right/until then I’ll kick back/and let the light shine/remember all yours/coulda been mine,” he sings. That’s about as deep as a plastic kiddie pool. There’s no momentum, no drive, no impact being made. “Skin I’m In” follows and, while it’s no gleaming jewel, at least it has some variations that distinguish it from being identical to every tune that precedes it. Cynthia Robinson, Jerry Martini and Pat Rizzo comprise the horn section and they, along with Allen’s smooth bass lines, give it some oomph. “The things I gain, oooh/sometimes they rain on me,” Sly complains. The let’s-locate-a-groove-and-roll-tape-and-I’ll-figure-out-some-words-later construction plan for “I Don’t Know (Satisfaction)” doesn’t fool me for a nanosecond. It’s sheer laziness, not innovation. “Nothin’ in the way/but another day/and we’re gonna push it/on out the way/’cause we’re goin’/what we know,” is an example of the poignant prose you’ll be subjected to on this one.

“Keep On Dancin’” is the sort of three-chord ditty that does absolutely nothing for me. “Take the floor then/you’re lookin’ good/I gets snowed in/if I could,” he mumbles. Do tell. It’s a test of patience and endurance to continue on after suffering through this mess. The ensemble’s bluesy take on Doris Day’s antique standard from 1955, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be), is a desperation gulp of musty air. Sly graciously allows his sister Rose Stone to take a turn at the microphone and her soft timbre is a welcome change of pace. On a decent album this tune would be no more than a novelty but here it’s a highlight. The #12 pop hit, “If It Were Left Up To Me,” is the sole track that allows the listener a fleeting glimpse into what used to make this band so special. It is without a doubt the apex of this record and one of the few in which Sly doesn’t try so hard to be Mister Cool & Hip. The group-sung lyrics of “if it were left up to me/it would take more than a notion/if it were left up to me/we could put ideas in motion,” actually make sense and have a purpose for being. Too bad the song’s a lonely island floating in a sea of mediocrity. Sly ends with “Babies Makin’ Babies,” another one-trick pony that fails to entertain or motivate. If you find his singing of the tune’s title 30 times in a 3:38 span of time to be genius then be my guest and dive in. Wake me when it’s over.

Other than my own personal observations I have nothing to back up my foul opinion of “Fresh.” Unless, that is, you take into account the fact that the album barely cracked Billboard’s top ten LPs (71’s wild “Riot” held the #1 spot for several weeks) before dropping out of sight like a weighted corpse ditched in a bayou. The public, even their formerly-loyal fans, avoided this one en masse and, as far as I’m concerned, with good reason. As with many talented shooting stars, Stone’s addictions and inflated ego eventually become more important to him than his artistic endeavors and the result was material that sounded fantastic only in his own closed mind. To the rest of the world Sly the Emperor was proudly struttin’ down the boulevard with no clothes and that’s the image that comes to mind when I listen to “Fresh.”

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