There’s a Riot Goin’ On is emblematic of a comedown. A comedown from the high optimism of the 60’s. A comedown from the spiritual awakening. A comedown from the sexual revolution. A comedown from the creative union that had reached its zenith in Woodstock, 1969. No one personified that comedown like Sly Stone.
Sly and The Family Stone had been one of the most politically outspoken bands of the late ‘60s. There previous album Stand! is a racially charged but uplifting message of defiance and unity. By 1970, Sly’s optimism had turned to cynicism and his psychedelic tendencies had turned into a full on addiction.
There’s a Riot Goin’ On was recorded between 1970 and 1971 in the throws of a dependence on cocaine and PCP. The album was recorded and produced almost entirely by Sly Stone, often in the confines of his own bed.
It sounds like no other funk you've heard before. The sound, style and subject matter are so different to anything that came before. Is this, dare is say, post-funk? Excessive over-dubbing gives the album an ultra dense feel, warm like Sly’s bed. The words are often incomprehensible but that don’t matter anymore. Sly creates a feeling. It’s all about the feeling. The bass is thick, electric organs weep throughout and Sly uses a complex mix of drum machines and live drumming which add the albums erraticism.
His defiance has withered. He is resigned to racial inequality, no longer angry, just tired. On tracks like the Family Affair he sings like a beaten down old man, his voice cracks, on the verge of tears. (You Caught Me) Smilin’ is the mask he puts on to hide his pain inside.
Unlike the other misrepresentations of America at the time, Sly was a voice for the downtrodden and the hopeless. Not everyone thought they could change the world like Marvin Gaye. Many were disillusioned, apathetic and wanted anything that could lift them from the harsh reality of bitter American life. Sly called out America for what it was. A junky waking up after a party looking to reach that high. He knew it, because he was it. This is an all American comedown. Has a comedown ever sounded so good?
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