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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Sly & The Family Stone
Greatest Hits

Rating: 9.5/10 ?

October 18, 2007
This is the easiest review I'll ever write. Pulling out reasons why Sly & The Family Stone is historically significant, musically groundbreaking, rhythmically perfect, audibly pleasurable to the nth power, for humans of any nationality, gender, race, what have you, is pie.

There are very few acts in history that I am confident in saying everyone likes. Sly & The Family Stone have such appeal; no one who loves rock 'n roll disagrees with their (already canonized many times over) greatness. Sly's band was never as big as the Beatles or Elvis or even James Brown, and as such was never potent enough to inspire backlash. They might be underrecognized today in the wake of the more outsized, lampoonable personalities like Rick James and Ike Turner, but hopefully a Family Stone reissues blitz corrects the injustice. We're all better off coughing up a few quid for reissues of the sturdy originals than entertaining the notion of some shaky Arrested Development reunion anyway.

In the grand pantheon of the great, the relatively turmoil-free Family Stone were less visible than their contemporaries, their politics having hit at just the right moment, at a time when cats could dig on their shining optimism towards race relations (with refreshing reflexivity that cut Afrocentricity as much as it cut White supremacy - "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey," follows its eponymous lyric with "Don't call me whitey, nigger,") and, well, some damn fine dance moves. Their ideas were universal ("You Can Make It If You Try,") and local ("Stand!") and often both ("Everybody Is A Star").

The Sly & The Family Stone players were fantastic, from Larry Graham spiking the recipe of funk with his slap bass, to the brilliant division of soul-strewn vocals between Sly, his sister Rose, and brother Freddie - and on the same tracks - alternating cadence and shading rather than straight-out harmony. Stone's lyrics were relentlessly positive but their idealism never smacked of empty-headed psychedelics (no matter how many he was taking). "I Want to take You Higher," "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People" are what gospel sounds like to us atheists. Every handclap, sax blat, trumpet curlicue - all of them exact.

What's most amazing about Sly & The Family Stone is that, ultimately, their moment in history fit them like a glove. With the benefit of retrospect, the band was clearly neither ahead of their time nor too late for it. They were precisely in their element, tailor-made for the moment, plugging the gaps in transcendent black pop between James Brown and Marvin Gaye, between drugs and consciousness, between peace and war. Sly & The Family Stone's anthems were both simple and complex, filled every void on an as-needed basis. Greatest Hits is a fulfillment, a celebratory look back on one of the greatest just-right entities in rock and roll's past.

Some additional truths about Sly & The Family Stone:

- They were the first prominent racially and sexually integrated band.

- "Family Affair" was the first #1 hit to feature a drum machine, but Stone refused to program it, opting instead to play the beat by hand, rewind and play it back, without looping.

- Sylvester Stone was proud to represent his people, but was not ignorant of others. Stone ignored no one, unless they stood in the way of his drugs.

- "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" is the funkiest song ever created, regardless of its bitter, audience-indicting content.

- Their music provides an excellent score for sexual intercourse.

- Or for just kissing.

- Or dancing.

- Or playing online Scrabble.

- The classic cut "Family Affair" is unfortunately not included with Greatest Hits, which means you're just going to have to buy their other magnum opus, There's A Riot Goin' On, as well.

- Greatest Hits is too short. But it's also just right.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss



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