Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unimpressive Pickett: Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia Screams Through Being Repetitive.

The Good: Some very cool, funky songs.
The Bad: Short, Replays poorly, Repeats similar tracks.
The Basics: A dismal classic R&B album, In Philadelphia is a repetitive Wilson Pickett album which does not showcase much of his talent.

When my February 2010 Artist Of The Month, Wilson Pickett, was revealed, my local library has managed to get me in a large stack of Pickett’s c.d.s. This, almost, makes me sorry I started with The Very Best Of Wilson Pickett (click here for that review!) as I am rapidly getting a better idea of the sound and feel of Wilson Pickett’s works to be able to judge better what are his better albums.

Sadly, Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia (or Pickett In Philadelphia or In Philadelphia, depending on where one is going for the title) is an underwhelming outing by Wilson Pickett which has been transferred onto compact disc with a disappointing addition of more of the same tracks. In fact, if one word could be used to describe In Philadelphia best, “repetitive” might well be it. Originally released in 1970, it was remastered in 1995 and three songs were added to the original album, all three of which are just reworks of songs that were already on the album.

With a dozen songs taking up only 35 minutes on a c.d., In Philadelphia is an album which continues to help make the argument that older albums ought to be combined when remastering them for c.d. Even with three additional songs (or, rather, reworks of songs previously on the album) the short running time of thirty-five minutes makes this an underwhelming use of the medium. As well, by this point – or at least for this album-, Pickett was a performer, not an artist. He provides the vocal performances for all twelve of the songs, but did not write or co-write any of the songs. As well, he did not play any instruments on In Philadelphia, nor was he involved in the production of any of the songs or the album itself.

What In Philadelphia is is a surprisingly mundane r&b album which replays poorly because it is nine songs with three of them repeated in almost indistinguishably different versions. Single versions of “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You,” “Engine Number 9,” and “International Playboy” close the album after each song’s original version was presented on the album. While “Engine Number 9” has a moderately different sound than the two-part version on the album, “International Playboy” is virtually identical to the original.

What sinks In Philadelphia for me is that it is mundane in its vocals and instrumental accompaniment. Wilson Pickett sings with a roar and a shout frequently enough and on this album, the result is more noisy than passionate. He sounds appropriately cocky on “International Playboy,” but that song is the only one where his vocals sound even remotely smooth. Instead, on others, he makes excited utterances, holds notes until he screeches and generally mumbles his way through many of the songs. This is not the best example of his vocal capacity and as a result, hearing him stumble around some of the more mundane lyrics sounds less musical than they could.

Similarly, the instrumental accompaniment on this album is mediocre at best. Like many late-60s/early 1970s rhythm and blues albums, this is an electric guitar and horn dominated album with pounding drums and percussion instruments. While many of the songs have heavy bass, it is the crashing of cymbals and drums accompanied by the accents of trumpets which is more often memorable on the songs on In Philadelphia. This does not mean the entire album is unpleasant; “Engine Number 9” was an obvious musical influence on David Bowie as it sounds remarkably like Bowie’s song “Fame” in the instrumentation. But “Run Joey Run” which opens the album is musically rich to the point of being overwhelming. With brass, piano, bongos and guitars, the song has a big band sound which is auditorily confusing as well as occasionally confused.

Even so, on my first listen (I am up to listen number twelve now), I was excited about In Philadelphia because it opens so strong with “Run Joey Run” and moves nicely into “Help The Needy.” “Run Joey Run” is a funky storysong about ethnic inequality and the fear a young, black protagonist has for his life, based on the father of his girlfriend. It might seem satirical the way Pickett sings “Run Joey run / Papa done got a gun . . .Shoulda’ never told her she was your only love / Shoulda’ never took her to see the stars above” (“Run Joey Run”) but when one considers the interethnic tensions of the early 1970s, the lyrics make a musical record of the unfortunate stories of the time.

The flip side of this comes next on the album with “Help The Needy.” On that song, Pickett slows it down and begs listeners “Come on and help the needy / Come on and lend a hand / Come on and help the needy / Can’t you see I’m a desperate man? / I need love . . .” (“Help The Needy”). The song is both socially conscious and personal, mixing the idea of helping the poor and downtrodden with needing love and affection as a basic need. It sounds good and Pickett pulls the song off.

But some of the songs, most notably “Bumble Bee (Sting Me)” are just ridiculous songs with limited rhymes that hold up very poorly over multiple listens. The song is repetitive, has an obvious rhyme scheme and says nothing in the end. Whereas songs like “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” have an obvious moral and message, “Bumble Bee (Sting Me)” is just musical filler with no real substance.

Usually, when the best songs on an album (“Run Joey Run” and “Help The Needy” in this case) are not ones that show up in further anthologies, I tend to recommend the work. But in this case, In Philadelphia just doesn't work and despite liking those two songs that appear unique to this album, no one's life will be significantly changed by not hearing them.

For other male vocalists, please check out my reviews of:
Billy Currington - Little Bit Of Everything
Don McLean - American Pie
Kenny Rogers - 20 Great Years


For other album and singles reviews, please be sure to visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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