Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sylvester

  • Step II [Fantasy, 1978] B+
  • Stars [Fantasy, 1979] B+
  • Living Proof [Fantasy, 1979] B-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Step II [Fantasy, 1978]
When Harvey Fuqua brought Sylvester back to the vinyl wars last year, he was seeking a disco hit. Well, eureka--"You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" is a real mutha for ya, one of those surges of sustained, stylized energy that is disco's great gift to pop music. In fact, the whole first side is classic dance montage. Side two proves that Sylvester remains incapable of impersonating Cissy Houston or Eddie Kendricks, though he's getting closer, and n.b.: on the most convincing cut he strays down into his speaking voice. B+

Stars [Fantasy, 1979]
In which Mr. S. stretches his two best tricks--for thrills, a supernal burst of sound too sweet for a shriek that he unlooses well above his normal falsetto range; for romance, a transported croon--over a consistently satisfying four-cut disco album, with help from his own Martha Wash and the Labelle-without-camp of Hodges, James and Smith. The title track tinges Sly Stone with Andy Warhol, but the tour de force is a remake of Ben E. King's "I (Who Have Nothing)," and you know what? Its artificiality suits the schlocky lyric at least as well as King's virtuoso dramatics. B+

Living Proof [Fantasy, 1979]
The three concert sides are what Sylvester wants--his graduation from disco into the world of Thelma Houston and the Pointer Sisters. But insofar as he succeeds artistically he does so on effort, not achievement--he simply can't generate the requisite vocal lustre so far above his speaking register. And insofar as he succeeds commercially he does so on the strength of the studio (i.e., disco) side--which succeeds pretty well artistically, too. B-

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