The Lowdown: Twenty-six years after their last record (1992’s uneven-to-unnecessary Chic-ism), Nile Rodgers & Chic return for a victory lap around a music world in which the former has ascended to the status of elder hitmaker and the latter’s catalog now serves as a funky set of guideposts for a new generation of disco-positive stars with good taste.
The Good: After this long of a layoff, we’d probably be satisfied if a new Chic record simply ticked all of the expected Chic-shaped boxes and nothing more. However, for its first two-thirds at least, It’s About Time never settles for a pure nostalgia play. Credit Rodgers’ late-career production renaissance for keeping him abreast of both sounds and rising stars. On tracks like “Do You Wanna Party”, Chic feels more contemporary than bands that have been around a tenth as long. However, the true highlights here come when Rodgers and company wield their own tight disco spin to revitalize sounds stretched across decades of dance floors. “Boogie All Night” bops with the giddy energy of Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, “Sober” bolsters the already-solid work of Craig David and Stefflon Don with “Poison”-grade New Jack swing, and “Till the World Falls” makes the case for Rodgers’ three-handed guitar work (and its imitators) being the grand unifying force behind the best dance singles of the last 40 years.
The Bad: The liner notes of It’s About Time are crowded with guest appearances, many of which fail to justify their own existences. The band sounds boxed in on New Jack producer Terry Riley’s take on “Sober” and plays down to its singer when Hailee Steinfeld falls flat on the forgettable “Dance with Me”, but the record’s two biggest flops are reserved for its two highest-profile collaborators. Lady Gaga takes up the unenviable task of reworking Chic’s all-world 1978 classic “I Want Your Love” and winds up translating the song’s arch drama into an unconvincing Dracula impersonation for most of the choruses. The record’s ultimate raspberry goes to Elton John, who utterly fails to redeem the clunking “Queen”. While the track has admirable goals of functioning as a heartfelt anthem of women’s empowerment, its cringeworthy lyrics send it tumbling into an uncanny valley of sentiment that borders on unintentional self-parody.
The Verdict: Chic’s legacy was secure before It’s About Time, and it will survive equally unscathed after its hits, misses, and upcoming 2019 follow-up. The fact that Rodgers and his crew were able to give the world a few new on-point rump-shakers to groove to remains the best kind of benevolence we could hope for in this, or any, year.
Essential Tracks: “Till the World Falls”, “Sober”, and “Do You Wanna Party”