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Fall Album Roundup : Gang Funks Up, Wimps Out

November 23, 1986|CONNIE JOHNSON

"FOREVER." Kool & the Gang. Mercury. There aren't any pop groups around who've mastered the high art of commercialism better than Kool & The Gang. They record fluffy hits like "Cherish," "Misled" and "Joanna" that critics abhor but the record-buying public adores, and the Gang keeps getting into the Top 40.

A lot of the people who bought "Emergency," Kool & the Gang's last smash LP, might have hidden it behind their Run-D.M.C. and Talking Heads albums when company came over--but buy it they did, to the tune of 2 million sales. So if curmudgeons want to squawk about fluff and unchallenging material, why should the Gang lose any sleep, right?

But it's not as simple as that. Actually, Kool & the Gang do have enough hipness and talent to satisfy even those with the most jaded tastes. They usually prove that in their live performances, where the pop wimpiness takes a back seat to funk ferocity. Buoyed by James (J.T.) Taylor's engaging, youthful tenor, the Gang's stage maneuvers project the guts and gusto that most of their recent hits only hint at.

This album opens with its best track, "Victory," a full-fledged funk exercise. Cuts like "I.B.M.C.," "Stone Love" and "Holiday," while not raucous enough to cause James Brown to lose any sleep, still contain enough of a backbeat to bounce the Gang out of tame territory. But just when you're ready to congratulate the band as a card-carrying member of the funk fraternity, up pop ultra-wimp cuts like "Broadway" and "Special Way," and you're back to square one.

It's hard not to like this group, because it does express good-hearted spirit, fine musicianship and a tough-to-argue-with formula for pop success. If they could get that formula to co-exist with non-fluffy, compelling material, even the biggest curmudgeons among us would be forever grateful.

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