Well, first up, it’s just excellent to hear from Chaka Khan again – her voice is one of the great things to have straddled funk, soul, gospel, blues, jazz, pop, rock and of course ultimately disco. She’s a legendary force. And despite live appearances, sometimes with reports that she can still fire, it’s been over a decade since we’ve had a new album.
So Hello Happiness gets the big tick for existing. Straight up. And a bigger tick for kicking off with the title track, which feels like vintage Chaka, like the disco doors never closed. It’s really a piece of magic. It feels like she found the fabled collaboration between Prince and Michael Jackson then wiped everything but the backing-track and made her own mini funk-freakout.
This mood carries on over to Like A Lady – it’s from the 1970s to the eighties, and just enough of a modern production vibe.
Unfortunately, that’s the slight hitch too, this never quite fires up fully, seeming concerned with making sugar-coated singles. I want to hear her go full Mavis Staples – let loose with a real band on some extended funk cuts. And that never quite happens.
Don’t Cha Know kicks off with a storming-but-sinewy funk groove and Chaka spit-howling, “I got my own thing”, which she sure does. And it almost feels like we’re back in Rufus-land. So Hello Happiness is knocking it out of the park with its three opening tracks. And though there’s no single moment of derailment this short album (seven songs, 27 minutes) simply stops.
Oh look, there’s some churchy organ goodness to light up the intro of Too Hot too, which actually comes over more Amy Winehouse than Aretha Franklin. And last year’s lead single Like Sugar is a pop gem of sorts.
So this is really starting to seem like a strange complaint, five out of seven songs near-bangers, but it is the two weakest tracks that end the album, and though they’re not flat-out duds they do kill the momentum. And we’re left with what feels like half-a-great album. Which is probably more than we could have rightly expected, and it’s more than many ever manage, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is the party that never quite kicks on.
As a business card for Khan still being in the game this is fine. Sometimes great. But the shame is that Chaka sounds close to the real magic here and then simply backs away, dips out, figures she’s done enough and so whatever is here will do…
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