Here’s a Curtis Mayfield (of the Impressions) solo album; so far as I know, the first. Most of the eight cuts are distinctly Impressionistic, and one, “Miss Black America,” includes Sam and Fred singing choruses. There are really no surprises in this album. It’s just eight more Mayfield tunes, sweet music to Mayfield maybe, but not what I’d call the best demonstration of the man’s talents.
For the past year or so, a lot of Mayfield’s tunes have seemed die-cast and lacking in character. He appears to be unable to develop either a musical or lyrical theme to fullness these days, and many of his songs are fragmentary, garbled and frustrating to listen to. Lyrically, his songs are a whole lot more rhyme than reason; which isn’t so uncommon, except that he tries to deal with some pretty serious and complex subjects by stringing together phrases that end with the same sound — whether they make sense together or not. Sure, it’s all subjective, but I can’t myself see that what we need is “Respect for the steeple/power to the people.”
The arrangements are all pretty uninspired, a little bit halfhearted — maybe largely because there’s so little melodic meat to most of the tunes. A few of the songs move well, mainly on the backs of the conga, bass and guitar men; but the long tracks (six to eight minutes) are a mighty long way for three men to try and carry all that weight.
Five of these cuts may get some airplay and popularity, for one or more of three reasons: because they were written by Curtis Mayfield of Impressions’ fame; because they have a good dance beat; or because they deal with “social issues” in a nice, bland, inoffensive, inconclusive way. “(Don’t Worry) If there’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go” is a pretty good example. It’s jumpy, it’s got words like “nigger” and “cracker,” “hell” and “Nixon,” and it says no more than the title. “The Other Side of Town” presents a grim view of a black man’s life and feelings in the ghetto. “We the People Who Are Darker than Blue” is the only song on the album that does some gear-shifting, rhythm-wise; but it doesn’t go anywhere, messagewise. “Move On Up” has some life to it, but not eight minutes and 50 seconds’ worth. “Miss Black America” strikes me as a good musical commemorative stamp, complete with an authentic black girlchild saying she wants to be a sex-object when she grows up.
Mayfield has written good material in the past. I’m hoping that he’s just in a slump, and that he’ll soon be writing tunes with real life in them again. This album, though, is pretty much just disjointed skeletons.