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Thursday, February 06, 2014

Herbie Hancock 72 - 88 Disc 16 Sunlight

Sunlight (1978)

“Aaaargh! No! Make it stop! Turn It Off! Pleeeeeeeeasssssseeeee!”

That was pretty much my reaction upon hearing I Thought It Was You playing on a pub jukebox sometime in the summer of ’78. To be fair, most pop music from that period elicited a similar reaction. Who on earth was producing this heinous tosh? My knees fairly buckled upon discovering that Herbie Hancock had gone, gulp, disco!

In my social milieu at the time, disco was about the worst thing that could happen to a pair of ears.
Older and, I hope, somewhat wiser, I hear this music now and while I can still pinpoint what irked that younger me, I don't get half as upset about it.

The sharp as an ice-pick brass arrangements, in the pocket drumming, tightly disciplined and structured soloing is a perfect distillation and framing of the pop song of the day. It anticipates The Crusaders’ embracing of the form and to some extent, the sonic territory of Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, both released the following year.

None of this is especially problematic. Indeed, musically there’s much to admire on Sunlight. The difficulty was always, and still is, that bloody vocoder.

The vocoder is the musical equivalent of deely boppers - you try them once, have a laugh with your mates, then put them down for good.

Hancock may be one of the most outrageously talented musicians of the 20th Century, but he can’t sing! Warbling through what sounds like a wired-up baked beans can only draws attention to this one perfectly forgivable flaw in his otherwise near-perfect musical DNA.

One can't help but be struck by the degree of musical schizophrenia on the album and the way it's echoed in the cover.

The front portrait has Herbie cast as a wing-collared dancefloor Lothario. On the back we see hunkered down with the synths as if to say, it’s OK I’m still the old Herbie.

Aside from the three vocal tracks which make up the bulk of the album, No Means Yes occupies some old-school Thrust-era territory while borrowing a half-speed version of Weather Report’s Teen Town as its principal melody. Speaking of Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius and Tony Williams join Hancock on Good Question for some good old jazz-rock knockabout. A case of Herbie trying to have his curate's egg and eat it?

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