James Brown

Soul Syndrome

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By 1980 James Brown was slightly adrift. His 1979 album, The Original Disco Man, failed to light a commercial fire, and its follow-up, People, seemed to fly into the cut-out bins. Brown cut his losses and left Polydor -- his home for over a decade -- for one album for Henry Stone's T.K. While this doesn't have Brown bubbling over with innovation, he still provided a more substantial alternative to disco. The first track, "Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses?)," at first is a clumsy attempt at trying to get praise from the burgeoning rap scene as he sings, "I know you heard of Master Gee / But you didn't hear nothing / About J.B." It then merges into a sped-up version of "The Payback," which would be blasphemous if it didn't rock like nobody's business. The off-the-cuff remake of "Mashed Potatoes" has Brown reuniting with Bobby Byrd as he calls out "taters." Shortly afterward they both go through a travelogue of cities and states like it's "Night Train" all over again. Soul Syndrome has Brown at least a little more chipper, but he was still bereft of ideas. The inane "Funky Men" would be garbage if it weren't for a reggae/funk guitar riff and a Latin horn arrangement. The cautionary "Smokin' and Drinkin'" only perks up when Brown begins to cough for close to a minute on the fade. The last track, like most of Soul Syndrome, wasn't overly concerned with the future as he closes with an instrumental of "Honky Tonk." Although this isn't essential, Soul Syndrome finds Brown engaged and that always makes for a potent product.

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