Nile Rodgers, one of the driving forces behind legendary disco outfit Chic, has had an impressive career renaissance in recent years. He snuck his way back into the collective unconscious, rightfully so, after being prominently featured in Daft Punk’s huge 2013 comeback single “Get Lucky”. Since then, he’s been in the spotlight constantly, getting inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 and rocking a headlining spot at Glastonbury that same year.
But let’s rewind. At Chic’s core were two men: Rodgers on guitar and Bernard Edwards on bass. In the mid-‘70s, they assembled Chic and served as the band’s primary songwriters. Aided by the vocal talents of singers such as Norma Jean Wright and Luther Vandross, just to name a few, Chic scored a slew of hits which have since become disco classics – “Good Times”, “Le Freak”, “Everybody Dance” and many more.
After some initial success, Chic disbanded for most of the ‘80s, but Edwards and Rodgers kept busy through it all. Together or separately, the two musicians worked with a range of music icons including David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”), Sister Sledge (“We Are Family”), Diana Ross (“Upside Down”), Madonna (“Like A Virgin”) or Robert Palmer (“Addicted To Love”), either as songwriters, session players or producers. Chic’s musical fingerprints also seeped their way elsewhere during that period, with ‘80s contemporaries such as Blondie or Queen citing Chic as a direct influence. Indeed, without Chic’s infectious, bass-driven hit “Good Times”, we might not have “Another One Bites The Dust” or “Rapture”.
Later on, Chic would eventually reform in the ‘90s to record an album, the middling Chic-Ism, and to successfully tour again across the world. Sadly, this revival was cut short under tragic circumstances. After a 1996 concert at the Budokan Arena in Tokyo, Edwards, who had been feeling ill, passed away of pneumonia. Despite this major setback, Nile Rodgers would keep the Chic name alive through collaborations, live performances and remix work in the two decades that followed. His efforts culminated with the aforementioned guest spot on Daft Punk’s inescapable “Get Lucky”.
It’s About Time
And now, 26 years after its last proper album, Chic is back in its latest incarnation with the appropriately titled It’s About Time. Its opening track and first single “Till The World Falls”, co-produced by EDM star Mura Masa, features vocals by R&B vocalist Cosha and Chicago rapper Vic Mensa. The song, while pumping with a disco heartbeat at its core, has all the sheen of a modern electronic dance production. No string sections or horn flourishes here; instead Rodgers is supported mostly by synthetic instruments. It all holds together pretty well, thanks in part to the undeniably funky guitar work. Mensa’s rapped verse is a perfect fit for the track as well, recalling Anderson Paak’s best work (he has a co-writing credit here). If you’re into the disco revivalism of acts such as Breakbot or Chromeo, you’ll feel right at home.
The better part of the album stays in this mode – uptempo jams about dancing where a carousel of buzzworthy guest vocalists are featured, from Nao’s expressive performance on “Boogie All Night” to Hailee Steinfeld’s commanding turn on “Dance With Me”.
Among the album’s standouts is “Sober”, a full-on New Jack Swing pastiche, complete with synthesized orchestra hits and Teddy Riley-style drums. It features two generations of UK artists: turn-of-the-century R&B star Craig David who delivers a graceful vocal performance here, as well as current sensation Stefflon Don, a female MC of Jamaican descent whose all-too-brief verse brings a touch of modernity to the whole affair. But while executed with finesse, one can’t help but feel like Chic is trying to catch up to Bruno Mars with this song, in a meta-ironic way. And curiously enough, another version of the track remixed by Teddy Riley himself and dubbed the “’New Jack’ Sober” is also included at the end of the album. The differences between the 2 mixes aren’t exactly drastic – it sounds like Riley couldn’t out-Riley himself with what he had to work with here.
After an enjoyable 6-song marathon of wall-to-wall disco beats, the albums takes a rest with “State of Mine (It’s About Time)”. This smooth, jazzy collaboration with renowned French keyboardist Philippe Saisse features sparse vocoders and Headhunters-type bass tones. Impressive piano and guitar solos follow one another, all supported by excellent live drumming (at last!). While other reviewers have likened this song to elevator music, I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed this amazing display of musical chops.
Ballad “Queen” is a soulful duet between Elton John and Emeli Sandé, a fellow Brit, and features a melody that brings to mind a number of ‘70s slow jams. The song does feel a bit crowded however, with each singer’s voice competing for the spotlight instead of complimenting each other – an unfortunate misfire considering the talent involved.
The album ends with a remake – a Lady Gaga-fronted version of Chic’s 1978 classic “I Want Your Love”. Gaga and Rodgers had originally recorded this collaboration in 2015 for a Tom Ford promotional video. Now, almost 3 years later, the song is finally available officially on an album. Gaga’s powerful vocals are featured prominently in this sleek and ornate version, which thankfully retains the original’s signature bell melody. A treat for Gaga fans.
With one foot in disco and the other in EDM, It’s About Time is enjoyable, though it may take a bit of an adjustment for long-time Chic fans to get accustomed to the very “of-the-moment” vibe of the record. Despite its modern tropes, the album does manage to rise above most pop radio schlock thanks to the excellent musicianship on display here. And mind you, as I’m writing this in October, I feel like the album could’ve used the leg up that a May or June release date might have provided. The overall vibe of the album is extremely sunny, and it’s bittersweet that it lands so late in the year. Oh well, keep it around for next summer’s pool party!