Kool & the Gang - Perfect Union (Advance Review)

Kool & the Gang
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Kool & the Gang - Perfect Union

Kool & The Gang have weathered more highs and lows in their five-plus decades in music than most bands dream of. From their original incarnation as a primarily instrumental funk outfit to their days as a commercially conscious R&B/pop group with singer James “JT” Taylor delivering memorable melodies, the ensemble led by brothers Robert and Ronald Bell has survived a myriad of trends while preserving their core as a tight rhythm section with dynamic horns and appealing hooks.

Kool & the Gang - Perfect Union

Kool & The Gang have weathered more highs and lows in their five-plus decades in music than most bands dream of. From their original incarnation as a primarily instrumental funk outfit to their days as a commercially conscious R&B/pop group with singer James “JT” Taylor delivering memorable melodies, the ensemble led by brothers Robert and Ronald Bell has survived a myriad of trends while preserving their core as a tight rhythm section with dynamic horns and appealing hooks.

The death in 2020 of Ronald Bell could well have convinced mainstay founding members Robert “Kool” Bell, Dennis Thomas (who, sadly, died days before we posted this review), and George Brown to throw in the towel. Instead, they opted to honor Ronald’s legacy with the release of their first new album (with the exception of a 2013 Christmas CD) in over a decade. Ronald was the driving writing and production force on much of what comprises Perfect Union, a stylistically solid and mentally fulfilling collection of tunes that will dispel any doubts about Kool & The Gang’s continued validity in the twenty-first century.

The opening “Pursuit of Happiness” transmits messages of universal love and togetherness which have come to symbolize the Kool brand since the global success of 1980’s “Celebration.” Lead vocalist Walt Anderson communicates the midtempo tune’s concerns about the state of humanity with earnestness and sincerity. The sentiments are delivered eloquently, and Keith Murray contributes a notable rap. The number overall, however, isn’t among the strongest selections on Perfect Union. With Anderson at the helm, there are a handful of uptempo entries which embody more of the underlying funk factors for which the group is revered—while grabbing the ear more quickly with sound vocal hooks and instrumental punctuation.

“Leave It on the Dance Floor” opens with quick-witted verses which reference Kool classics and JT Taylor’s sound while bristling with fresh rhythm and contagious energy. Anderson sees the grabbing groove through, and the story line builds in tandem with the kinetic arrangement. The disappointing part comes when the cut ends abruptly after only three minutes. Such is the case, too, with the catchy “The Weekend.” A few notches slower, but equally bump-inducing, the previous single, “Sexy (Where’d You Get Yours),” thrives on smoothly crafted phrasing brought to the forefront with charming falsetto by Anderson.

The second half of Perfect Union keeps the momentum going with a flowing melding of jazzy tones and hip-hop sensibility on “R.O.Y.A.L.T.Y.,” boasting spirited, prideful lyrics and vibrant horn lines complementing a slightly Usher-reminiscent hook and swinging beat. On a somewhat mellower tip, the uplifting “Hold On” assuages with soothing guitar work alongside the retro-laden, anthemic chorus of faith and perseverance. Subsequently, “Good Time” ups the party vibe one last time with subtle allusions to past hits before the closing edited version of “Pursuit of Happiness.”

Perfect Union’s chief imperfection is the brevity of its tracks. Although this could be the case due to perceived shortened attention spans of a bite-size society, the jams here are just too tight to come to a close so quickly. How about an Extended Perfect Union to see the celebration all the way through? In the meantime, the album stands as clear confirmation that Kool & The Gang haven’t lost an ounce of their rhythmic knack and song finesse. Recommended.

by Justin Kantor

 

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