Today’s Pop Rescue from an uncertain future, is the 1982 fifth album Nine Lives by American disco-funk duo Stargard. Will this album help you live your best life, or will it be more of a zombie? Read on…
This 9 track LP opens with the funky brass and bass of cover of Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart – a song written by legendary writers Holland/Dozier/Holland and performed by Motown stars The Supremes in 1966. The vocals are light and bright, keeping this song upbeat and energetic. Stargard (Rochelle Runnells and Janice Williams) sound like they’re throwing themselves all over this track, showing off their vocal versatility. It’s a foot-tappingly great start to the album.
That’s followed by Say Please, which opens with some great early 80’s roaring electric guitars. Here, the drums and vocals are harder to meet the sound of the rock guitars. The track chugs along easily but allows Rochelle (in the first of her five writer or co-writer appearances) and Janice to show off some more playful vocals.
Next it’s Home Sweet Home, and perhaps as the title would suggest, we’re into a heartfelt ballad. This allows the ladies to show off softer and warmer vocals and some delightful harmonies too. The gentle percussion, chocolate box keyboards and love song template are in play here, but Stargard do a great job as the song evolves to evolve vocally with it, allowing for some big notes briefly struck in the middle of the song and a warm wave of harmonies towards the end.
True Love follows that and this stood as the album’s sole single. Percussion lead us into this upbeat track, and it instantly throws us into a light disco sound complete with synths, as well as more acoustic sounding and electric guitars. It’s a gentle little song, and yet still allows Stargard to throw in some catchy, playful, and harmonised vocals that help with that nod to a (by this point fading out) disco sound.
Piano chords signal the arrival of Side One closing track Lovers Or Friends. The chugging guitars and bass are back again, set against the piano. Rochelle and Janice (co-writer) are soon in on the microphone though, to tell someone about their confusing behaviour towards them (‘lover or friend boy?‘). The bass gets really quite funky here, and it’s worth listening to this song if only for that. The track is fairly catchy anyway, and we get an appearance from Mr Obligatory 80’s Saxophone towards the end.
Side Two opens with an electric guitar on Stay On The Beat. This soon joined by a simple beat and gurgling bass line. ‘I’m a believer‘ go the vocals, sung all a bit wobbly, before some catchy ‘duh der der der‘ vocals drop in as the song lightens a bit into a really quite funky sounding track, which seems to dominate the track a bit, leaving only the ‘stay on it’ and other vocal harmonies as the noticeable vocals.
The oddly titled Let Me Be Your Mindbender follows this, and we’re into a nice plodding funky song. Brass stabs interject between funky bass and bursts of vocals. I’m not 100% sure what a ‘mindbender’ is, but presumably co-writer Rochelle does. Either way, there’s some wonderfully stylised funky sounds and vocals.
Next up is Midnight Rendezvous, which gives us a gentle track that slowly ticks along in layers of vocals and harmonies, backed by piano. Turn the lights down low, as it’s a warm little loved-up song.
The album closes with Keep Knockin’ which gives a load more funky bass and guitars, in fact layers of them! ‘Keep on movin‘ sing Rochelle and Janice perhaps more often than ‘Keep on knockin‘ until later in the track, but they deliver this song with seemingly effortlessness, with opportunities to show off glimpses of their vocal power and range with occasional high notes and ‘ow!’. It’s a nice enough gentle song.
Over all, this album is really quite funky, but it’s also quite benign too.
There’s no getting away from the fact that both Rochelle and Janice are wonderful singers and performers, and that this album has lots of funky sounds from both vocalists and instruments throughout, but the weakness here is that some of the songs are a bit flat or middle-of-the-road.
There are a few highlights to be found here – the cover of The Supremes Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart might have a long and odd title, but their version works well, and sets the album off nicely. Lovers Or Friends gives us some catchy vocal play too, and makes for a nice end to side one. Stay On The Beat, like with side one, acts as a nice opener, and gives us a glimmer of a fresh sound.
Of course there are low points too, but these are mostly the rest of the album and only because they lack a hook to make them memorable or catchy. There’s no stinkers here, just ‘yeah that’s nice’ moments. Midnight Rendezvous could have benefited from being a disco stomper, but with disco now on the way out in 1982, it might not have been desirable.
Stargard’s earlier albums in the late 1970s with Debra Anderson benefitted from being pumped with power, and thriving in the height of disco, but here, the funk is mellow and the disco has faded, leaving Rochelle and Janice a bit lost as to what the hook of each song might be.
- POP RESCUE 2023 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1982 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Not released in the UK.
- POP RESCUE COST: £4.00 from a Discogs.com seller.