Good Music We Can Know

Friday, December 9, 2011

...That'll Really Really Hurt You One Day: The Persuaders- Thin Line Between Love And Hate (1974)

There's not a lot of soul records this good, this consistent. There's not that many records, period, this good. On first listen, you might not immediately feel the same way- maybe you'll never agree, I don't know you- but you'll almost certainly find the opening/title track a gripping surprise (assuming you've never heard it before, though you may have, as it was actually a decent hit).

"Thin Line Between Love And Hate" is a masterpiece of soul, and a masterclass in the art of the dark pop song. Part of what makes this particular tale of adultery, deceit, domestic violence and grievous bodily harm is the abstractness of the storytelling, and the neutrality of the narrator. The singer plays the part of the philanderer, and he offers no rationale for his dalliances- he simply notes that he's coming home from one. Later, with a frank matter-of-factness that toes the line of remorse but doesn't quite qualify, he remarks that the sweetest woman can be the meanest woman, if you make her that way. He lays out cause and effect, but doesn't blubber about changing his ways, or how much pain his sins have put him in. It's a quietly amazing quality, a sober sense of remove. By the end of the song, it's reasonable to conclude that it's being "sung" from the hospital bed his silently furious woman has put him in (the method of injury left mysterious), and he's been thoughtfully replaying the night in his head, reliving minute details in slow motion, helpless to stop the inevitable. Elegant.

It's also a lot of fun to listen to. It's so cleverly written, for one thing, but it's also delivered with true perfection. The back-and-forth between lead vocals and backup on deliciously colorful lines, such as when the woman nonchalantly offers, "are you hungry? did you eat yet?" is a revelation, and a joy. It's a thrill.

The Persuaders are excellent with their vocal arrangements, and the leads are always passionate and precise, full of nuance when necessary. The magic doesn't end there, luckily- the Poindexter production on this album is just a god damn miracle as well. I'm not sure how to go about describing it, honestly, because it's not so radical, really. It's just very very specific and tight, stripped down to the absolute necessities; there's very little orchestration, and no horns. There's a lot of tight little drum beats and xylophone. Lean and funky and kind of hard, but bouncy and full and infectious enough to be definitively soul pop. It's a marvel. A rare gift.

Every song is good. It's a beginning-to-end album. Even the very best soul records might have a hard time making this claim- there's always some filler to prop up the singles. On Thin Line Between Love And Hate, The Persuaders put as much heat on the filler as anything else.

"Blood Brothers" gets into a pretty tuff-sounding statement of blackness, but it's also sweet-hearted as a church boy, and 100% unity-oriented: "we are all part of a big beautiful picture!" "Mr. Sunshine" breaks out the falsetto and plunges into Delphonics territory. "Thigh Spy" might have been a low point, but by excluding horns from such a Sly Stone or James Brown-esque track, it becomes an interesting exercise in restraint. "If This Is What You Call Love (I Don't Want No Part Of It)", "Let's Get Down Together" and "You Musta Put Something In Your Love" are pure, sexy delights, with massively soulful sentiments.

If every song is great, the only song that exceeds that greatness and rivals "Thin Line Between Love And Hate" is "Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)". The first line of the song says it best: "Oo. Wow." This is a mercilessly awesome track. Content-wise, it's pretty basic stuff, but the production, the arrangements, the harmonies, are all in full-throttle and gunning it for the heart of legendary. This shit is perfect. I'm not even gonna describe it anymore, you just gotta hear it. Oh my God.

After listening to this album in it's entirety the first twenty or so times, and keeping engaged through every selection without necessarily meaning to, I realized that this was no ordinary record. I couldn't stop starting it over. It's a sly little masterpiece, and the further into it you get, the more massive the master of it all seems. Do not miss this, my friends.