Fela Kuti

Expensive Shit/He Miss Road

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Wrasse Records continues its excellent Fela Kuti reissue series with the release of this disc containing two of Kuti's finest from the 1970s. Both recordings were issued in 1975, which isn't surprising since he released six albums during that year. This set -- in a deluxe slipcase with killer liner notes by Jacqueline Grandchamp-Thiam and Rikki Stein -- and with gloriously remastered sound -- puts them in reverse order, but that's fine. Expensive Shit was produced by Kuti and contains two long tracks, the title cut which clocks in at a little over 13 minutes, and "Water No Get Enemy." As with all of Kuti's recordings, the groove here is what makes or breaks them. A lone guitar playing a jazz riff is joined by a percussive and spooky piano before a synth and a single drum add dimension. As the piano picks it up and myriad percussion winds its way in, the band kicks in full force and the ass-shaking Afro funk trance commences. Even as the horns enter the picture, the hypnotic strangeness is enough and carries on through Kuti's saxophone solo. When the vocals kick in, it's almost too much to bear. "Water Get No Enemy" is righteous, funky, and spacious all at the same time. The bleating horn section punches through the bass, keyboards, and drums; wordless vocals are chanted setting up a call-and-response with the music. Kuti's solo opens up the jam from the inside before the horn rejoins the party. And it is rough and tumble but intoxicating.

He Miss Road was produced by none other than Ginger Baker, who was a semi-regular jamming partner of Kuti's, as well as a close friend. And the tunes Kuti wrote for this platter are wild, cosmic, sexy as hell, and deeply saturated in funk à la James Brown. The B3 solo at the beginning of the title track is simply a device for inviting the band in; the B3 is way up in the mix, supercharged. The echo effects Baker used on the organ and the horns add a nice touch and create a different textural quality. One that is spacious to be sure, but still rooted in the shamanic repetition as the riff goes on forever no matter what instruments enter or leave the mix. The vocals show up midway through as everything gets tense and explodes. "Monday Morning in Lagos" is deep, dark, swirling Afro-funk. It's moody, spooky, and its organ line just stitches the whole groove together. The final cut, "It's No Promise," is pure Nigerian trance music. The longest track here; it's also the most abstract. It's held together by Tony Allen's drumming and the popping bass line by Franco Aboddi.

This pairing of albums works so well it makes for a fantastic listening experience. It shows the depth and texture Kuti's sound took on in the mid-'70s, one of his most creative and consistent periods. As a single disc -- with a running time of about 63 minutes -- it's indispensable for fans, and an amazing introduction to the novitiate.

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