Awesome mu­sic from the ar­chives – James Brown’s ‘The Pay­back’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Donal Di­neen

The hyp­notic bassline hook that gives this al­bum’s ti­tle track its se­duc­tive swing is one of the most sam­pled sounds in mu­si­cal history. Ken­drick La­mar’s King Kunta is the lat­est ex­am­ple of how far its in­flu­ence ex­tends. Pro­duc­ers keep us­ing th­ese taut tightrope grooves for a rea­son.

It’s a par­tic­u­larly po­tent type of soul power we’re deal­ing with here. James Brown was a shapeshifter and here’s an ex­am­ple of him at his un­touch­able best. He struts im­pe­ri­ously across ev­ery tune with­out ever break­ing stride.

The spare, open ar­range­ments on The Pay­back make it ripe for plun­der­ing. The clipped wah-wah gui­tar that’s wo­ven through its fab­ric is the def­i­ni­tion of a funk phe­nom­e­non. His vo­cals are in a dif­fer­ent class. Brown’s in­sis­tent de­liv­ery is the sound of a man on a mis­sion. He’s hell-bent on re­venge and clearly it’s time to col­lect.

Re­mark­ably for a ca­reer that was only two decades old, The Pay­back was Brown’s 40th LP but there’s plenty to sep­a­rate it from the 39 that came be­fore.

Re­leased in 1974, not just son­i­cally but emo­tion­ally too, there is some­thing more stripped-back and stream­lined about this one. It’s leaner and meaner in terms of tex­ture and tone. There’s tremen­dous en­ergy and a pal­pa­ble ur­gency to it.

Some­thing comes to a head here. There’s co­her­ence to the mes­sage of em­pow­er­ment and eman­ci­pa­tion. The cover im­age is a break from Brown’s show­biz per­sona; he sports an om­nipo­tent gaze, his hat ablaze with the in­cen­di­ary words: “We got a right to the tree of life.”

It all comes to­gether on Mind Power, the epi­logue. It’s a ral­ly­ing cry for the ages. Brown im­plores us to look in­side. His words are per­sua­sive and the groove ir­re­sistible. There’s no other way. Sub­mis­sion is the key.

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