Nile Rodgers and Chic Return After 26 Years With ‘It’s About Time’
Disco is one of those genres that hasn’t quite made its way into retro celebration quite yet, but figures like Nile Rodgers put such a stamp on popular music to shape the entire trajectory. After all, Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers’ Delight” sampled Chic’s “Good Times,” and there’s a reason for that. It’s because the song exemplifies funk and pop in its most instinctively infectious form, condensed. Rodgers knows how to pen a punchy song that fills up the dance floor. While he has gone on to write songs over the years, Chic has been absent for a staggering 26 years, and we now have the long-overdue release of the appropriately titled “It’s About Time.” It’s a ridiculously upbeat and festive reimagination of Chic’s signature sound, with a star-studded cast to give it some contemporary edge.
At once, “Till the World Falls” sets a mood that endures for the duration of the album. This is music that is so consistently effervescent and buoyant that it rather defies logic. The strain of music that Chic delivers — parts disco, funk, and R&B — lends itself to a celebratory style, of course. But the extent to which this plays up that angle is a bit surreal. Imagine jumping on a trampoline, with a grin as wide as your cheeks can muster, for two thirds of an hour, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect. The lyrics on this opening track, “We can make the world fall down,” are very special if you consider them in equal parts lyrics and delivery. The giddiness of it all represents the idea of positivity triumphing over negativity, in the sense that the mere appeal of something like dancey music can congregate masses and assume power in numbers to the extent that it becomes a force to be considered. Rapper Vic Mensa makes an appearance, and his verse sounds a bit forced, like in ‘90s dance songs in which a rapper showed up to spit a few bars, bouncing about for a minute, then vanish. On the other hand, his energy matches the song, and it all seems about right overall.
“Boogie All Night” will make anyone who has been waiting for this album very happy, as it embodies all of Chic’s trademark characteristics in a way that comes across as natural and charming. First and foremost, there’s the bassline. Let’s admit, bass guitar is often just a filler instrument that just shows up because of tradition and doesn’t demonstrate much value. Bands like Chic actually made a case for the potency of the bass, and this song is another example. “Sober,” featuring Craig David and Stefflon Don, suddenly shifts gears into a distinctly early ‘90s vibe — think Arsenio Hall and Fresh Prince. David’s hook is very punchy and effective, and the whole song sounds like a compressed sugar rush. This mood continues steadily into the next track, “Do You Wanna Party,” featuring rapping and Auto-Tune driveling from Lunchmoney Lewis. At this point, with the album running enough of its course to start leaving an impression, one thing becomes especially striking. It’s how Rodgers and Chic have managed to keep their original, classic sound, and incorporate modern elements without seeming phony or contrived. Some of the guest appearances might seem a bit silly, but that fits with Chic in general, as this is a type of music with a very casual, lighthearted ease that manages to make it work.
“Dance With Me” is significant in that it captures the signature Chic sound in the most blatant way, as if merely marketing a brand, with no qualms regarding any notions of style or taste. Lyrics like “Turn the music up loud, and dance with me” could hardly be more generic, but on the other hand, that makes it great. It’s universally relatable, celebratory, unpretentious dance music. As if you haven’t had enough dancing, the next track is titled “I Dance My Dance.” At this point, it becomes interesting how Rodgers and crew have, for whatever reason, latched onto sounds of certain eras more than others. This is another beaming early ‘90s track — once again, big hair, tracksuits, you know the rest. “State of Mine (It’s About Time)” sounds extremely anachronistic — it’s pop-jazz telephone music, and that’s basically enough to say.
“Queen” features none other than Elton John, as well as Emeli Sandé. It’s an outlier, as it’s considerably more understated than the hyperactive funk that fills most of the album. It’s a bit of a ballad, and John’s presence might come across as slightly underwhelming, as he doesn’t exactly take the spotlight, but mainly assumes the lower register, as a sort of sonic placemat. “I Want Your Love” brings thing back to jumping, ecstatic party fare. Lady Gaga has been recruited for the track, and she’s in the same mode of “Bad Romance’— deep-voiced, bellowing retro fare, pulled off so well that it makes the nostalgic irony and the artistic integrity all blend into a murky haze that is ultimately wonderful. “‘New Jack’ Sober” revisits the previous track, “Sober,” but with a nod to the “New Jack Swing” style. If you thought it got ‘90s before, this will bring on a full-on heart attack. One striking thing is how certain styles that seem to be entirely dissimilar end up being such compatible matches. Early ‘90s R&B meets ‘70s disco-funk ends up meshing seamlessly.
Overall, “It’s About Time” makes due on a title that gives it plenty to live up to. It brings back a sound that has been perhaps unappreciated over the years, but was an absolutely integral force in the evolution of music, at its time. And it revisions it with a string of collaborations that end up accentuating aspects of the music that bring out its character, and put a modern spin on a classic sound in a way that manages to present throwback fare in an elegant package.
“It’s About Time” is available Sept. 28 on Apple Music.