Heritage – 1990
Produced by Maurice White, Bobby Colomby, Charles Freeman, Les Pierce,
Frankie Blue, Robert Brookins, and Ian Prince for Kalimba Productions.
Arranged by Maurice White, Les Pierce, Frankie Blue, Bill Meyers, Billy Young,
Robert Brookins, and Ian Prince.
Review by RJM – Rating:
|Who says you can only die once? Apparently,
Maurice White decided that even though "Touch The World" was a successful album
and regained respectability for Earth, Wind & Fire, he wanted to be on top of the pop
world again. Thus, the mostly electronic "Heritage" was conceived as an attempt
to score big with young urban Blacks. Because of mainstream America’s discovery of rap, he
hoped this meant he could appeal to a much wider audience.
The release of the "Heritage" album and the title track was held back a bit to the beginning of 1990 to honor Dr. Martin Luther King on his birthday. Unfortunately, "Heritage" turned out to be the second major disaster for EW&F. The problem with making such a crassly commercial album is that when it misses its target audience, your core fans are offended and you’re left standing out in the cold.
For "Heritage", EW&F employed Sly Stone ("Good Times" and "Body Wrap"), M.C. Hammer ("Wanna Be The Man" and "For The Love Of You") and the young rapsters The Boys (title track). Although "Heritage" is awful compared to other EW&F work, it actually stacks up well versus its pop contemporaries. For example, one has to wonder why "For The Love Of You" didn’t hit the jackpot for EW&F. It featured rapper M.C. Hammer (considered lightweight by his rapping peers) who was flying high at the time with his album "Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em" and its megasingle "U Can’t Touch This".
The title track and video were actually decent if somehow The Boys’ nonsensical contribution could be removed. One has to wonder how it would have been received under these circumstances. Furthermore, on the title track, you’ll find that EW&F signature guitar work by Sheldon Reynolds. The message in the lyrics is positive, so I have to wonder why it bombed. It must be that The Boys gave them an aspect that the public wasn’t willing to accept. Or something.
Things start off relatively innocuously at "Takin’ Chances", although there’s a sign of trouble. The style of lyrics on this cut and most of the album can, at times, be described hedonistic, self-centered, egotistical, and adolescent. In other words, trying to take on many attributes of contemporary rap. This is not a natural domain for EW&F. You know you’re in trouble when you hear the choral vocal arrangement of the fourth cut "Good Times". The arrangements sound like the most nauseating of contemporary pop. It’s hard to dislike Sly Stone, so the true scope of "Heritage" is not clear at this point.
Although you can never criticize Maurice White’s flawless production techniques, "Heritage" is just plain weak material. The vocal arrangements are among (if not) the worst ever for EW&F, and it’s clear that Maurice was not responsible for many of them. The filler "Motor" (was this a tribute to the Gap Band’s "Burn Rubber On Me"?) and the vocal arrangements on "King Of Groove" (oh oh oh oh oh oh) are especially vile. I should expand on how much I dislike the latter. Maybe I’m somehow missing the point, but hearing Maurice utter a phrase like "Everybody want to ride in my limousine" is absolutely absurd. "King Of Groove" ranks way up there on the EW&F worst singles list. "For The Love Of You" starts out in a way that seems to have possibilities, then immediately becomes like the rest of "Heritage"
You’ll find more traditional vocal arrangements on "Anything You Want", so this one doesn’t offend. "Daydreamin’" starts excellently with interesting keyboards arrangements, then fizzles. "Daydreamin’", along with "I’m In Love" and "Anything You Want" hint at past glories, and as such, are much more sincere than the rest of "Heritage". However, "Wanna Be The Man" and "For The Love Of You" make me wonder. EW&F has always attracted the most sophisticated pop listeners. What made Maurice think that we were interested in Hammer’s take on his personal relationships?
The cut of most substance and most out of place on "Heritage" is "Welcome". Unfortunately, electronic arrangements were still in place throughout "Heritage", and "Welcome" is the only cut featuring their new outstanding drummer Sonny Emory. As with "Electric Universe", EW&F’s other bomb, the insipid synth drum arrangements are everywhere. I try really hard to ignore them on the phenomenal interludes "Close To Home" and "Faith".
The real winner on "Heritage" is "Gotta Find Out" which was not part of the CD released in the States, but rather the B-side of the title track. Many fans were not aware of the existence of "Gotta Find Out" until it appeared on the box set "The Eternal Dance" in 1992. (I wish whoever makes these decisions would stop doing this to get me to buy CD singles.)
What’s lost in all this is the highest concentration of epic interludes, like "Bird", "Body Wrap", "Close To Home" and "Faith". So, I guess if mom only gave you enough money for only 27 of the 28 CDs in my review, then "Heritage" should be included! This marked the end of EW&F’s Columbia career.
We were about to enter the dark era of EW&F. There wouldn’t be any more yearly solo projects until 1994. Even the most optimistic fan couldn’t expect EW&F to bounce back from the "Heritage" torpedo, so it appeared that they were finished for the second time in seven years. Not just yet!
Total playing time: 39:50
US: Columbia 45268
EUR: Columbia 466242-2 (Incl. bonus track: "Gotta find out")
JAP: Sony CSCS 5109
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