I hadn't heard of Sylvester prior to checking out this hits compilation, but by all accounts he was a major star on the American disco / nightclub circuit in the late-70's / early-80's. So much so in fact, that David Bowie once remarked in response to poor ticket sales for a San Francisco gig, that 'San Francisco doesn't need me. They've got Sylvester'.
Sylvester's relative obscurity outside his homeland can be attributed to a number of factors ... he was more a flamboyant live performer in the disco / clubbing scene than on TV or radio; many of the tracks on this compilation are quite lengthy and geared more towards all-night dance marathons rather than radio-play; and his appeal was primarily within the underground gay / androgynous scene in which disco originally developed, prior to it going 'mainstream'.
That's all reflected in the music here, being a more vigorous form of disco than the poppier variety subsequently served up on late-70's radio, this material incorporating a funkier feel, along with lashings of joyous Gospel-style choruses from female backing singers, plus a liberal and very effective use of early synths.
As for Sylvester himself, his vocals are a high-pitched falsetto throughout this collection, making it very obvious indeed from where Jimmy Somerville of Bronski Beat derived his inspiration ... in fact, Bronski Beat could essentially be deemed an exact UK equivalent to Sylvester, as the band likewise originated in their local gay scene, and they mimiced Sylvester's sound to a considerable degree, only omitting his Gospel flavourings. Otherwise though, Bronski Beat's rhythms, lead vocals, and use of synths, all replicate and improve upon what Sylvester was doing in the latter half of the 1970's.
Bronski Beat in the UK however achieved far more crossover success than Sylvester in the States, partly because they had better tunes, but also because there wasn't the same degree of vehement antagonism towards disco in the UK as there was from strident anti-gay rednecks in the USA, which extended even to organised rallies that burned disco records.
Being early disco, the first two-thirds of this collection sounds pretty dated now, and the length of some tracks makes them a real chore to sit down and listen to, though I'm sure what might seem monotonous in that context would sound fine late at night on a dark club dancefloor accompanied by a lightshow of oilwheels, laser lights, and mirror balls.
The last third of the album is better sit-down listening, as the tracks are shorter and there's a greater variety of tempos than just one continuous disco beat. The uptempo "Can't Stop Dancing" sounds a lot like UK contemporaries of Sylvester, Hot Chocolate ... then there's also a couple of slower sweet soul numbers that - thanks to Sylvester's voice - sound remarkably like The Stylistics.
Posted: Tuesday 26th Apr 2016 2:40 PM
Whilst this release is subtitled the Guerilla Remix EP
, at nearly an hour long, it is more a full-length album than an EP.
Similarly, whilst it has the characteristics of a mix CD, the tracks are actually separate entities, so you'd actually need two copies of the album if you wanted to create a seamless mix!
Incidentally, this album goes well beyond the basic beat-matching that often characterises mix CDs, with each track 'bleeding' into the next in all sorts of novel ways - with vocal lines and melodic phrases carried over from one track well into the next, so that each track is kinda made up of half the preceding one, and half the next one, resulting in an intricate sonic tapestry.
The quality of material is of a high standard throughout, with every track except perhaps "Groovy Beat Pt 1" being 5 stars or better. In fact, the album is bookended by standout tracks, opening with the latin-flavoured house of the 5½ star "Land of Oz Pts 1 & 2" with it's tongue-twisting nonsense lyrics delivered in a rapid-fire manner, and closing with the gorgeous trance of the 6 star "Feel Pts 1 & 2".
Whilst the tracks inbetween those two may not quite measure up to the same high standards, that's only due to them wearing a little thin after many repeated listenings on my part, so they'd still likely seem highly innovative on first acquaintance.
Considering this is one of the first electronica albums I acquired, and that it still stacks up very well after a great many playthroughs, I figure it warrants an overall rating of 6 stars.
Posted: Thursday 16th May 2013 6:58 PM