James Chance & the Contortions The Flesh is Weak
Published Nov 11, 2016Brian Eno has made many smart moves. Putting the Contortions up front on the seminal No New York compilation was one of them. The band represented the Lower East Side No Wave movement's most energetic strain, embracing skittish funk grooves and eventually ZE Records-style mutant disco. Devoted to technique and discord in equal measure, bandleader James Chance was both old-fashioned and caustically funny, which helped his music go down easier than that of anti-artists like Mars and DNA.
Unfortunately, traditionalism is all that remains on the Contortions' first official album since 1979. Chance sheds his abrasive side on The Flesh is Weak, and his spontaneity and energy goes with it. A man who beat audiences into submission in his heyday should never make bloodless music, but these eight songs are too dull to cut deep.
Maybe it's unreasonable to expect Chance to stay in his angry young man phase, but it's not as though he's matured lyrically. The singer groans about pinning back eyeballs and peeling skin on "Melt Yourself Down," but his threats lack credibility when his back up is a burbling organ and limp wah-wah guitar. A cover of Gil Scott Heron's "Home is Where the Hatred Is" even downplays the original's funk bassline, stripping the song of its urgency. Chance feints at "disturbing the peace and misbehaving" on closer "Snap it Back and Strip it Down," but like the rest of The Flesh is Weak, it scans as canned rebellion, not so much out of step as out of touch. (True Groove)