The word “funky” in the title of this album isn’t meant merely to reflect its general thrust, though funky it certainly be. Rather, the funky fuzz here is specifically American and ’70s in origin — slappy bass, sproingy keyboard effects, sweaty rhythms, and, on more than one occasion, bald-faced James Brown copycatism. JB-esque “ungh!”s and “huah!”s dominate the album (although fortunately the vocalists here restrain themselves from any “Good God!”s or “It’s too hot in the hot tub!”s).
This Brown worship makes sense; most of the tracks here were recorded in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when the Godfather’s influence was just beginning to swarm the West African coast. For the African musicians who heard him, Brown rightly had a titanic influence on their work — the vocals, sure, but the rhythms as well, which are (for the most part) danceable, hard and, if I may, groovy.
Each of the twelve tracks establishes its own sonically distinct territory, from the Super Eagles’ Santana rip, to the great Manu Dibango’s texturally lush instrumental, to Ofo & the Black Company’s awesomely manic distorto romp “Allah Wakbarr.” But it seems the folks who cobbled together these songs felt the compiler’s compulsion to mix things up too much tempo-wise (note to David Byrne or Yale Evelev or whoever really put together this album: Why?). So a couple slow ones are scattered throughout Love’s a Real Thing, all of which dam up the funky fuzzy flow right quick. That’s a problem, because this is a dance record at heart, best apprehended in da club, not in da headphones (although some of the guitar and horn and keyboard solos do sound real nice if you concentrate).
Granted, it’s not a perfect dance record — none of the dance-tempo songs are as instantly grabby as they should be. But as a collection of groove tracks, it meets its rather-limited, incredibly crucial self-imposed goal. In other words, this was not meant to be a sedentary record. The idea is to make you want to get on up, stay on the scene, etc. And in that, it’s a definite success.