An odd irony of disco is that despite it enduring a very well-documented “death” in the late ’70s it has a greater legacy, and is in better health, than most of what replaced it, certainly having more staying power than the racism and homophobia that killed it off. And so it is that Nile Rodgers unexpectedly catapulted back into the public consciousness with Daft Punk’s 2013 hit Get Lucky, and he is getting his old band back together for an album of collaborations with people who were inspired by Rodgers’ and Chic’s songs.
What these guests bring to the table varies from track to track – it is impossible to parse Mura Masa’s contribution to opening track Till The World Falls – but they are largely tasked with carrying the record. This is because while disco can work well in an album format – Giorgio Moroder’s E=MC2 and Cerrone’s Supernature being some of the best examples – Rodgers is musically in the shallow end for much of It’s About Time and the schtick wears thin, despite the brief 38 minute run-time.
One of the tracks where an outsider really makes their mark is the freewheeling Do You Wanna Party, co-written and co-produced by PC Music’s Danny L Harle. The busy production is in keeping with his über-pop style, with deliriously wacky key changes thrown in at unexpected moments. Pianist Philippe Saiss provides another album highlight with his crisp soloing on State Of Mine (It’s About Time), the music discarding a little of its sheen and becoming more lush to suit his jazzy style. By contrast, Stefflon Don sounds out of place on the R&B-tinged Sober, which also features Craig David, and the original’s place on the album is itself a little baffling when Teddy Riley covers the same ground so much better on “New Jack” Sober.
The production style for much of the record is house-influenced, acknowledging how the form of electronic music has essentially taken disco into a new generation, but there are also forays into glitzy ’80s pop. Speaking of which, the pace slows later in the album for a ’80s-style ballad featuring Elton John and Emeli Sandé about a women who is validated by men calling her Queen (spoiler: turns out she doesn’t need them ‘cause she had what she needed inside all along, etc). It skates between being sweet and being a bit naff, but it serves as the record’s emotional centre.
The record’s weakest point is the middle section, where Hailee Steinfeld fails to save the distinctly middling Dance With Me and the only track without guests, I Dance My Dance, fails to make any impression at all. But Rodgers and co. partially redeem themselves for clunkers like these with the extremely catchy Boogie All Night and a stylish Lady Gaga rework of Chic classic I Want Your Love, complete with occasional hints of Bad Romance.
If this array of contemporary guests is meant to prove Rodgers & Chic’s continuing relevance, It only partially succeeds, as the sound of Rodgers’ syncopated rhythm guitar has by now become a bit dated for the second time. But there are some great pop hits here, and the grooves are fun even when the record has little else going for it. One lingering mystery remains: where are Daft Punk? Having provided The Weeknd with a slice of funk for his 2016 single I Feel It Coming, their production could really have helped the album in places. Nonetheless, It’s About Time has joyous, feel-good highlights and low points that could have been worse.