I'm Back

James Brown

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I'm Back Review

by Jason Elias

Since 1976's Get Up Offa That Thing, Brown has been existing on comebacks, near-misses, and embarrassments, no matter how ultimately substantive and profitable they turned out to be. His work had been re-evaluated by the early '80s, but his newer work, primarily his album output, including 1992's Universal James, has been uneven and substandard. Although I'm Back isn't a masterwork of cohesion, it proves the artist's viability, and that's more than enough. This set starts off with a hip-hop, synth-based version of "Can't Stand It." It should be appalling, but it's not. Throughout most of the album, Brown runs headlong into newer production values and remixes, and comes out generally unscathed. "Funk on Ah Roll" shows up in three versions, the best being "Funk on Ah Roll (S Class Club Mix)." The track has Brown singing, "Bring back the funk" -- and it does, sampling a few of his hard-edged '70s tracks in an inventive manner. The tracks devoid of studio wizardry fare less well. Brown phones in "What It Takes," a bland duet reworking of Brook Benton and Dinah Washington's "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)," giving two people a chance to turn over their graves for the price of one. A potent remake of "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" has St. Clair Pinckey doing a great, old-timey, honking sax riff. The uncomfortably astute, slightly anachronistic, early-'90s styled "Break Away" has Brown sounding off to fans who attempt to flee him, only to return his patently, screaming-loud R&B. I'm Back does have its share of duds, but it mostly shows Brown in command and still a viable presence.

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