Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Kool and the Gang

  • Celebrate [De-Lite, 1980] C-
  • Emergency [De-Lite, 1984] B-
  • Forever [Mercury, 1986] C-
  • Everything's Kool and the Gang: Greatest Hits and More [Mercury, 1988] B
  • The Best of Kool & the Gang (1969-1976) [Mercury, 1993] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Celebrate [De-Lite, 1980]
It says something for these funk pioneers that unlike James Brown, George Clinton, and the Ohio Players they've adapted painlessly, nay profitably, to disco: a number-one single leads their Deodato-produced album into the top ten. What it says is that their funk was as bland as you suspected. Even the number-one single is disco as transformed not by funksters (cf. "(not just) Knee Deep" or even "The Original Disco Man") but by bizzers (cf. "Fame" or even "Guilty")--disco without a cult, which means without a loyal audience either. C-

Emergency [De-Lite, 1984]
Funk pioneers in the early '70s, crossover pioneers in the early '80s, and don't blame yourself if this impressive double play missed you coming and going--anonymity is their signature. When I undertook a professional reexamination of their latest piece of platinum, I was surprised to recognize all three hits on side one from the radio. Quite liked "Misled," sort of liked "Fresh," rather disliked "Cherish"--and had never wondered who did any of them. B-

Forever [Mercury, 1986]
If in 1973 I'd been told that thirteen years hence Casey Kasem would name a then ghettoized funk group as the top singles act of the '80s, my heart would have swelled until my head interjected that the top singles act of the '70s was the Osmond family. In this I would have been wise, and if I'd then been told that the secret of Kool's success would be a bland black singer named James Taylor, I would have observed that he couldn't possibly be worse than our white one. In this I could have been unduly optimistic. C-

Everything's Kool and the Gang: Greatest Hits and More [Mercury, 1988]
If the glitzy, vaguely hip-hop electro-disco "club remixes" of such bare-bones funk milestones as "Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging" are a little disorienting, they're far from sacrilegious. Together with the hits (plus the well-earned "Rags to Riches," companion piece to the well-earned "Money and Power"), they put this undependable band in its place, a step ahead of the Commodores. Maybe two steps. B

The Best of Kool & the Gang (1969-1976) [Mercury, 1993]
funk-kitsch godfathers ("Hollywood Swinging," "Jungle Boogie") *

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1970s]: Amelodic hitmakers, jazzbos who couldn't improvise, these primal funkers were too funking primal for me in the early '70s, their artistic heyday. Listening to their various best-ofs now, I can hear that it was arcane rhythms and silly novelty hooks that got them onto (black) radio. But the dance floor is obviously where to figure such music out, and though I like individual cuts--"Jungle Boogie" and "Hollywood Swinging" especially--I doubt I'll make sense of it until some DJ takes me by surprise.