Sly & The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971)

AllMusic Review: It’s easy to write off There’s a Riot Goin’ On as one of two things — Sly Stone’s disgusted social commentary or the beginning of his slow descent into addiction. It’s both of these things, of course, but pigeonholing it as either winds up dismissing the album as a whole, since it is so bloody hard to categorize. What’s certain is that Riot is unlike any of Sly & the Family Stone’s other albums, stripped of the effervescence that flowed through even such politically aware records as Stand! This is idealism soured, as hope is slowly replaced by cynicism, joy by skepticism, enthusiasm by weariness, sex by pornography, thrills by narcotics. Joy isn’t entirely gone — it creeps through the cracks every once and awhile and, more disturbing, Sly revels in his stoned decadence. What makes Riot so remarkable is that it’s hard not to get drawn in with him, as you’re seduced by the narcotic grooves, seductive vocals slurs, leering electric pianos, and crawling guitars. As the themes surface, it’s hard not to nod in agreement, but it’s a junkie nod, induced by the comforting coma of the music. And damn if this music isn’t funk at its deepest and most impenetrable — this is dense music, nearly impenetrable, but not from its deep grooves, but its utter weariness. Sly’s songwriting remains remarkably sharp, but only when he wants to write — the foreboding opener “Luv N’ Haight,” the scarily resigned “Family Affair,” the cracked cynical blues “Time,” and “(You Caught Me) Smilin’.” Ultimately, the music is the message, and while it’s dark music, it’s not alienating — it’s seductive despair, and that’s the scariest thing about it. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Luv N’ Haight” 4:01
2. “Just Like a Baby” 5:12
3. “Poet” 3:01
4. “Family Affair” 3:06
5. “Africa Talks to You ‘The Asphalt Jungle'” 8:45
6. “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” (timed at 0:04 on compact disc) 0:00
Side two
No. Title Length
1. “Brave & Strong” 3:28
2. “(You Caught Me) Smilin'” 2:53
3. “Time” 3:03
4. “Spaced Cowboy” 3:57
5. “Runnin’ Away” 2:51
6. “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa” 7:14

 

Schill Score:  6.75/10

 

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Sly & The Family Stone – Stand! (1969)

AllMusic Review: Stand! is the pinnacle of Sly & the Family Stone’s early work, a record that represents a culmination of the group’s musical vision and accomplishment. Life hinted at this record’s boundless enthusiasm and blurred stylistic boundaries, yet everything simply gels here, resulting in no separation between the astounding funk, effervescent irresistible melodies, psychedelicized guitars, and deep rhythms. Add to this a sharpened sense of pop songcraft, elastic band interplay, and a flowering of Sly’s social consciousness, and the result is utterly stunning. Yes, the jams (“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” “Sex Machine”) wind up meandering ever so slightly, but they’re surrounded by utter brilliance, from the rousing call to arms of “Stand!” to the unification anthem “Everyday People” to the unstoppable “I Want to Take You Higher.” All of it sounds like the Family Stone, thanks not just to the communal lead vocals but to the brilliant interplay, but each track is distinct, emphasizing a different side of their musical personality. As a result, Stand! winds up infectious and informative, invigorating and thought-provoking — stimulating in every sense of the word. Few records of its time touched it, and Sly topped it only by offering its opposite the next time out. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Track Listing

Side one

  1. “Stand!” – 3:08
  2. “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” – 5:58
  3. “I Want to Take You Higher” – 5:22
  4. “Somebody’s Watching You” – 3:20
  5. “Sing a Simple Song” – 3:56

Side two

  1. “Everyday People” – 2:21
  2. “Sex Machine” – 13:45
  3. “You Can Make It If You Try” – 3:37

 

Schill Score: 9.5/10

 

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