From the moment you press play and hear that signature hornline, you know youre listening to an Earth, Wind & Fire album. Now, Then & Forever, the bands latest studio album, which arrives right before their 45th anniversary, is a deft project that manages to successfully blend that familiar EWF sound with a contemporary feel.
However, while the album is competent and technically proficient, it is ultimately forgettable. That should not suggest this is a bad album, it’s just that we are not about to hear the EWF of yore; this is the group trying to find footing in a new era.
Thanks to those aforementioned dominant horns, opening track Sign On is a buoyant effort, with EWFs current leader Philip D. Bailey (son of Philip Bailey, he with the famous falsetto) and composer/vocalist Daniel McClain urging the world to find a better way to get along. Its the sort of jam you wish Congress had listened to before selfishly shutting down the government.
Dance Floor is a disco-era jam, one that will have folks of all ages gettin downit will surely prove to be popular at wedding receptions. Love is Law, with its butter smooth vocals, is a lively, hand-clapping, Chicago steppers anthem. Get your suits and ball dresses out for this one. A slow, funky guitar groove powers the decidedly contemporary-sounding Got to Be Love, while the beautiful, and much too short, Belo Horizonte is a nice bit of Latin romance. ¡Suavemente!
And Night of My Life almost plays like a spiritual sequel to Daft Punks early summer hit Get Lucky. It perfectly encapsulates what EWF is trying to do here, which is bring their brand of glossy, sexy, bourgie 70s funk into the post-aughts.
As one can see, the grooves are definitely still there, but theres something a bit off about them. Its almost as if Earth, Wind & Fire is sampling Earth, Wind & Fire. Though the performances are energetic, the arrangements solid, and the production near flawless, Now, Then & Forever simply cannot compare to the classic material of the groups heyday. You’ll enjoy it while it’s playing, but once you’ve turned the radio off, very little will remain with you.
Though he contributed liner notes, Maurice White is sorely missed as the guiding force of Earth, Wind & Fire. (This is the first EWF album without music input from its founder.) The second disc is a playlist of classic tracks curated by some notable names in music, including Clive Davis, Pharrell, The Roots, Andre 3000, Raphael Saadiq, and White himself.
Love is Law
Got to Be Love
Night of My Life