If you are sick to death of “It’s Your Thing” from all those TV ads masquerading as female self-empowerment messages you could be forgiven for never wanting to listen to this record, ever. I mean, that’s sort of where my mind was at when I saw the title. That song is one of the most over-used in ads over the last couple of decades. (I hope they are sleeping on a giant pile of money.) But judging this record on its most famous track – and even judging that track based on over-use by advertisers – is not fair to this record which, it turns out, is pretty great.
I don’t know the backstory about how the Isleys were controlled by Motown and not allowed to do what they wanted, but I will say that subtext is not subtext here – there are multiple songs about individual freedom here. But, as with soul and funk in general, don’t bother with the lyrics – they are not good. I generally ignore the lyrics as much as possible when I listen to soul and especially funk.
But the music is great – it’s funky soul early on in the development of funk. So it’s certainly not as funky as funk would get in the ’70s, but it’s remarkably funkier than much contemporary soul – Motown for example and even much Stax and other labels. That’s probably the predominant thing I take from the record – it’s just way funkier than I was expecting from my limited knowledge of the Isleys and from hearing the title track way too damn much.
The material isn’t exactly first rate, I guess. But I really like the performances – the ballads are passionate and the uptempo, funky tracks hit a nice sweet spot where they are grittier than you’d expect but not as grimy or murky as the psychedelic funk emerging around this time.
I may have overrated the record because of my low expectations but, at least at this moment, I really enjoy it.