Life [Bonus Tracks]

by: Sly & the Family Stone

Just a matter of months after Dance to the Music, Sly & the Family Stone turned around and delivered Life, a record that leapfrogged over its predecessor in terms of accomplishment and achievement. The most noteworthy difference is the heavier reliance on psychedelics and fuzz guitars, plus a sharpening of songcraft that extends to even throwaways like "Chicken." As it turned out, Life didn't have any hits -- the double A-sided single "Life"/"M'Lady" barely cracked the Top 100 -- yet this feels considerably more song-oriented than its predecessor, as each track is a concise slice of tightly wound dance-funk. All the more impressive is that the group is able to strut their stuff within this context, trading off vocals and blending into an unstoppable force where it's impossible to separate the instruments, even as they solo. The songwriting might still be perfunctory or derivative in spots -- listen to how they appropriate "Eleanor Rigby" on "Plastic Jim" -- but what's impressive is how even the borrowed or recycled moments sound fresh in context. And then there are the cuts that work on their own, whether it's the aforementioned double-sided single, "Fun," "Dynamite!," or several other cuts here -- these are brilliant, intoxicating slices of funk-pop that get by as much on sound as song, and they're hard to resist. The truly amazing thing is that while its predecessor, Dance to the Music, is nowhere near as consistent as Life, it was a smash album, with its title track becoming a Top Ten single on the Billboard pop chart, whereas the latter album didn't score in the same manner. Despite the great familiarity and inclusion of tracks such as "Life" and "M'Lady," neither scored in the Top 40. The single "Dynamite!," which opens the set, didn't chart at all. [The beautifully remastered Legacy edition contains four bonus cuts: the mono single version of "Dynamite!" is here as well as three previously unreleased cuts, including the beautiful instrumental "Sorrow" and the burner "Pressure."] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Thom Jurek

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