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Album Review: Earth, Wind & Fire – Now, Then & Forever

4 min read

It’s been over four decades since they first hit the scene, and with their latest studio album Now, Then & Forever, Earth, Wind & Fire have shown that a propensity to boogie is ageless. The title of the record is fitting; the set of tunes cover the differing sounds that the band has latched onto over the years as well as covering less familiar, and at points more modern, territory.

EarthWindAndFireNow, Then and Forever is EWF’s first album of new material for Legacy Recordings, and that in itself also seems appropriate. You get the sense, and it has been stated explicitly by band member Philip Bailey, that these tunes are about shaping the group’s legacy; that EWF are trying to make more of the kind of music they want to be remembered for, rather than what might climb highest on the charts or score them yet another accolade. The record certainly drums home the same theme that the band has been preaching unashamedly since their formation – that universal concern: love.

In 1971, Lester Bangs described the lyrics of EWF’s debut album as ‘lovepeace cloying’, and perhaps that’s the way it felt on the comedown from the ‘60s. But forty or so years on, while love as a theme is still prevalent in all art-forms, it is seldom addressed in the general and optimistic terms that EWF put it in. And sometimes it seems that people in this day and age could do with a few more straightforward reminders to love, and be kind to, one another – rather than another mopey song about heartbreak.

The first half of the record is very much in touch with the band’s past. The attributes that made the band one of America’s best selling artists are all there: the peppy horn lines, the grooves that will trigger bouncy nodding of the head at some points and fluid movement of the body at others, the lively falsetto of Philip Bailey. In fact, at one point in the tune Guiding Lights, Bailey hits a note that I would have thought beyond the reach of the male voice – it’s as if he were just out to prove that age hasn’t eroded his range. We also get a taste of the more electronic sounds that EWF began to explore a bit further into their career.

The second half of the album is a bit more experimental. It begins with the laid back instrumental Belo Horizonte, which seems a bit out of place on an Earth, Wind and Fire record; it’s elevator music and has nothing of the dynamic energy or soulful melody that the group are renowned for.

It might be in part due to current production methods, but the tracks Dance Floor and Night Of My Life have a rather modern feel to them. The former particularly, in addition to its contemporary sounding hook, has a very big bass drum sound and as such resonates with today’s dance music. Whilst these tunes feel somewhat adapted for an updated music industry, when the vocals kick in it is undeniably EWF, and plenty funky.

The remaining tracks in the second half are Splashes and The Rush. The former has a very subdued jazzy vibe to it; the horns are less in your face and the use of some interesting instrumental effects make the tune feel somewhat submarine. The latter, which closes the album, starts with the sense that it is going to follow in the footsteps of Splashes, but then morphs into a very cool and down to earth piece of R&B.

The tunes on Now, Then & Forever don’t hook you in quite the same way that Boogie Wonderland, or the ‘bah-dee-yah’s in September might, but it is a great record from an accomplished band that are just as capable now as they ever were of getting bodies moving.