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There's a Riot Goin' On
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  • During the late '60s, Sly and the Family Stone was the house band for the new utopia: celebratory, integrated, intent on breaking down walls, and full of relentlessly positive, idealistic energy. 1971's THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON directly contradicted all of these characteristics. Instead, the album represented the dark days of post-'60s disillusionment--a move from right-here/right-now ethos to reflection ("Time"), from integration to separatism ("Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa"), and from Sly's exuberant cheerleading to a weary, craggy-voiced vocal style. Many fans considered the album a "downer" at the time.
  • In truth, RIOT is stunningly innovative and artistically accomplished. Here Sly began playing with subtle, sophisticated rhythms, creating webs of interlocking parts and textures, foregrounding mood over pop structures. The production is murky, keeping with the dark, edgy themes of the album, yet it is packed with detail. The burbling guitars, keys, lock-pop bass, and ghostly vocals create a warm, enveloping cocoon, as on the honeyed, heavy-lidded groove of "Just Like A Baby," the percolating surge of "Family Affair" (one of Sly's finest moments), and "(You Caught Me) Smilin'," which catches a wistful flash of the old optimism. Though it may be a challenging listen for the uninitiated, THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON rewards endless repeated listens.
Professional Reviews
Rolling Stone (12/11/03, p.118) - Ranked #99 in Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums Of All Time" - "...Implosive, numbing, darkly self-referential..."

Rolling Stone (12/23/71, p.62) - "...One of the most influential innovators in recent years, Sly retains a certain inventiveness and a characteristically high-strung sound..."

Spin (p.122) - "[E]ven its darkest moments have a seductive, funky gait. Probably why Prince found religion."

Q (p.124) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he album's mood was dark, its structure loose. As an expression of drug-laced ennui and an evocation of the post-'60s comedown, it has a grim power."

The Wire (p.56) - "Distortion was always a major part of the Sly & The Family Stone sound, and it's wonderful to hear an expensive album breaking up in this way."

Down Beat (p.68) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "[The album] opened new dark corridors for funk and anticipated hip-hop and neo-soul."

Vibe (2/02, p.87) - Included in Vibe's "Essential Black Rock Recordings".

Vibe (12/99, p.164) - Included in Vibe's 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century

NME (Magazine) (9/18/93, p.19) - Ranked #30 among The Greatest Albums Of The '70s.
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