Each week, The Perfect Chord looks back at albums you may have missed when they dropped, or miss now that they've faded from memory. This week's glimpse into the crates:
Nile Rodgers – B-Movie Matinee
Nile Rodgers was already a household name for anyone with an ear for pop music by the mid-1980s. A founding member of legendary R&B group Chic, Rodgers also built a name for himself as a session musician and producer—in fact, it is for the latter that he is best-known. Fresh off a busy start to the decade that saw Rodgers either produce or co-produce, among many others, Madaonna’s Like A Virgin, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Deborah Harry’s Koo Koo, Diana Ross’ Diana, and a remix of Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” single, Rodgers found the time to record and release the follow-up to his solo debut (1983’s Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove) with precious little fanfare. B-Movie Matinee, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek homage to both the 1950s films referenced in the title and the materialistic excesses of the disco and club scenes of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, proves Rodgers saved some of his tightest songwriting and best production values for his own work, while flexing his muscle with some then-nascent musical techniques that would prove to drive the music industry for years to come.
The new technology appears in full-force right off the bat. Album opener “Plan 9” kicks off with Rodgers’ synclaiver hiccupping over synth drums before settling into a hip-hop-friendly, keyboard-heavy groove. The song unfolds as a pleasant, inoffensive dance number until Rodgers hits the first of many fantastic guitar solos, pushing the track from “interesting” to “fantastic.” Rodgers keeps the energy going with “State Your Mind,” a more rock-oriented number that sounds conspicuously like it might have been written for Let’s Dance. Indeed, Rodgers affects a Bowie-esque croon, and his guitar has a slightly darker tone recalling that of Stevie Ray Vaughan, who played guitar on Let’s Dance. After The Face In The Window (another funked-out rock number with a head-nodding bass line), the album’s first highlight—“Doll Squad”—closes the first side. With its spacey synths, jangly guitar, and absurdly 1950’s horror film-esque lyrics, “Doll Squad” finds Rodgers at his finest on guitar, bass, and keyboards, and delivering his hilarious lines (“Now hear this!/They can transform you with a kiss”) with almost Bootsy Collins-esque glee.
In fact, it’s Rodgers’ unmistakable delight that elevates B-Movie Matinee from a silly solo aside to a memorable album in its own right. The album’s second side kicks off with its other highlight, the R&B-dance crossover hit “Let’s Go Out Tonight.” The song (the only one from the album to chart) begins with Shizuko Orishige rapping in Japanese over the song’s beat. Chic vocalist Alfa Anderson makes an appearance, sharing vocal duties with Rodgers over the verses, while Rodgers adds delicate keyboard touches on the arrangement. Orishige returns over the bridge, bookended by Rodgers guitar solos, before the song fades out. “Groove Master” follows, a straightforward dance number that closest resembles Rodgers’ work with Chic. The album closes with obligatory slow jam “Wavelength,” a nice change-of-pace amidst the dance-able tunes, and “Stay Out Of the Light,” a simplistic, head-nodder that nonetheless serves as a competent closer to an excellent dance album.
Understandably, it’s Rodgers’ own reputation as a legendary producer that makes his solo material so difficult to find. B-Movie, like his solo debut, is somewhat tricky to find on anything other than vinyl (it’s out-of-print in every format in which it was released, and CD versions retail on Amazon for no less than $20). In a way, this actually adds to the overall listening experience; listening to what was, for the time, an extremely forward-thinking album in a very dated format helps put the listener in the mindset the original listeners must have been in back in ’85. Even without the experiential element, though, the album is a fantastic capturing of Rodgers at his instrumental best, an exhibition by one of the most celebrated instrumentalists pop music has ever known.
A. Darryl Moton is a freelance writer/Iowan/curmudgeon driving a bus in Portland, Oregon.