Curtis Mayfield

Never Say You Can't Survive/Do It All Night

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The last two Curtis Mayfield albums distributed by Warner Bros during Curtom Records' declining years of 1977-1978, make for an interesting pairing. Never Say You Can't Survive was the last Curtis Mayfield album done in a pure soul vein for the next three years -- its style and sound place it in a direct continuity with the rest of his output right back to 1958. The singing on love songs such as "Show Me Love," "Just Want to Be with You," and "When We're Alone" is among the most achingly lyrical and passionate of his career. The title track boasts ravishing backup singing by Kitty & the Haywoods (who also perform outstandingly on "I'm Gonna Win Your Love") and a beautiful arrangement by James Mack. The album's final track, "Sparkle," written for Sam O'Steen's movie of the same name, starring Philip Michael Thomas, Irene Cara, and Lonette McKee, gets one of three distinct treatments that the song ever received (the others are from the soundtrack and Aretha Franklin's version -- it would've been nice to have the other two here as bonuses). Do It All Night was a maddening album, a complete break in style as Mayfield moved into a pure disco vein. It was his most successful album in three years, but it alienated many longtime fans because he deliberately dumbed down his writing -- traded his core audience, who couldn't abide the album, for a slightly larger disco audience that had previously eluded him, painting himself into an artistic and career corner. The title track was indicative of the artistic nadir to which Mayfield had to descend to find where the mass audience had gone, a number without an ounce of poetry that he wouldn't have wasted his time with in the studio, much less completed or released in years past; the beat and the arrangements rather overwhelm anything that Mayfield is saying or singing throughout this album. The closest one gets to the old Curtis Mayfield sound, which is to say, to Curtis Mayfield at all, is "In Love, In Love, In Love," a relatively subdued and soulful number which would have been a secondary track on almost any album that preceded this one, and it is practically lost here, sandwiched in between the commercial dance numbers "Keeps Me Loving You" and "You Are, You Are." Mayfield would adapt his style better to the needs of disco with Heartbeat, his next album. The sound on this two-CD set is excellent, incidentally, derived from brand new late-'90s remasterings off the original tapes, and the annotation is enlightening.

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