It’s with some trepidation that this reviewer plays an album called Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak). Had said album been credited to anyone other than the estimable Isaac Hayes, the disc likely wouldn’t have gotten a spin. And in fact the leadoff title track would seem to confirm the worst fears one might conjure. A too-long and contrived “party” track is a faux audio document of Mr. Hayes and his posse meeting a well endowed lady. Zzzz. The rest of the track (the musical part) is good but nothing special.
But things quickly (and significantly) improve. “Let’s Don’t Ever Blow Our Thing” and “The Storm is Over” are songs in a more traditional Isaac Hayes vein, with little about them to justify the disco epithet label. Even “Music to Make Love By” — which is a disco tune, is pretty enjoyable, sort of a funkified piece halfway between Hayes’ Shaft theme and the best work of Earth Wind & Fire. “Thank You Love” moves, with a catchy riff. Yes, the lyrics include the phrase “dance all night long,” but whaddya expect from an album with the phrase “Disco Freak” in its title?
In keeping with Isaac Hayes’ penchant for outré subject matter, “Lady of the Night” is a widower’s love song to…a prostitute. This otherwise great song in the patented Hayes music-to-make-love-by genre might be spoiled if one’s partner listens to the lyrics. Good song otherwise, though. “Love Me or Lose Me” closes the album on a musically upbeat note, again successfully marrying Hayes’ approach with disco styles.
The quality of this album is most likely down to two things: one, it’s Isaac Hayes, after all. Two, unlike many other artists drawn into the marketing craze that was disco, for Juicy Fruit, Hayes resisted the temptation to toss out his longtime musical associates in favor of disco hired hands. The presence of the Movement means that the album avoids falling into rote disco styles. Instead of being a disco record with Isaac Hayes fronting the ceremonies, it’s an Isaac Hayes album (almost always a good thing, that) informed by the then-trendy disco sensibilities.
The sort of release that might be overlooked when putting together back-catalog re-releases, Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) is quite a worthwhile album, not at all unpleasant listening for those (like this reviewer) who have no use for disco music. And if you like disco, you’ll probably really enjoy this, as it’s several cuts above most records that typify the genre. It’s down to the good instincts of the folks at Concord/Stax to release the deluxe reissue of Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) in tandem with the celebrated Black Moses (read a review of Black Moses HERE). That way it gets more (deserved) attention than it might otherwise receive. This one is in fact a keeper.
Oh, by the way — special notice should go to the package designers, who have faithfully recreated the LP design. Be sure to check out the album art. Proof-positive (as if it were needed) that Isaac had a sense of humor long before he joined the cast of South Park.