War - Topic

The World Is a Ghetto Play

War's third album as an act separate from Eric Burdon was also far and away their most popular, the group's only long-player to top the pop charts. The culmination of everything they'd been shooting for creatively on their two prior albums, it featured work in both succinct pop-accessible idioms ("The Cisco Kid," etc.) as well as challenging extended pieces such as the 13-minute "City, Country, City" -- which offered featured spots to all seven members without ever seeming disjointed -- and the title track, and encompass not only soul and funk but elements of blues and psychedelia on works such as the exquisite "Four Cornered Room." "The Cisco Kid" and "The World Is a Ghetto" understandably dominated the album's exposure, but there's much more to enjoy here, even decades on. Beyond the quality of the musicianship, the classy, forward-looking production has held up remarkably well, and not just on the most famous cuts here; indeed, The World Is a Ghetto is of a piece with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Curtis Mayfield's Curtis, utilizing the most sophisticated studio techniques of the era. Not only does it sound great, but there are important touches such as the phasing in "Four Cornered Room," not only on the percussion but also on the vocals, guitars, and other instruments, and the overall effect is a seemingly contradictory (yet eminently workable) shimmering blues, even working in a mournful and unadorned harmonica amid the more complex sounds. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

All Day Music Play

As controlled as their self-titled debut was loose, War's sophomore effort, All Day Music, appearing a little over six months later in November 1971, was packed with subtly understated grooves. A hit with the fans, the LP peaked in the Top Ten, ultimately spending a massive 39 weeks on the charts. Side one is a gorgeous slab of mellow grooves and jazzed funk highlighted by both the title track and "Get Down," while "That's What Love Can Do" is an outstanding, textured, sleepy love affair revolving around the band's superior vocal harmonies and a tenor sax solo. The light, spare rhythm is like a warm treacle binding. With just three songs picking up the second half, War steps up the pace across the Latin-influenced jam "Nappy Head," the funky, bass-laden "Slipping Into the Darkness," and the all-out electric blues jam that rips through the prototype "Baby Brother." The latter was recorded live on June 30, 1971, at California's Hollywood Bowl and would, in revised and seriously edited form, be reborn as the monster "Me and Baby Brother" on War's Deliver the Word opus. Not nearly as fiery (with the exception of "Baby Brother," of course) as either their live performances or later albums, All Day Music is still one of this band's best-ever efforts. At times mellow enough to border on horizontal, the songs are filled with such texture and such rich intent that even in the band's quietest breath there is a funky resonance that fulfills Lee Oskar's vision fully. ~ Amy Hanson, Rovi

Life (Is So Strange) Play

War kept battling in the mid-'80s, switching labels and trying different producers in an attempt to maintain their viability. This was the second of two albums they recorded for RCA, and they were unable to sustain the comeback begun with the previous album. The title track was a moderate success, but by now they sounded weary and uninspired. The same was true for their production, arrangements, and compositions, as well as past strengths like group interplay, musical support, and solos. ~ Ron Wynn, Rovi

Galaxy Play

War had been on cruise control for over two years due to internal and record company troubles when they resurfaced in the late '70s on MCA. This album was a pleasant surprise, even though it had more disco production than their funk fans wanted. But they got a hit out of the title track, and the better tracks retained the old War grit and eclectic fire. ~ Ron Wynn, Rovi

The Best of War and More, Vol. 2 Play

Since Avenue botched War's The Best of War and More by neglecting to put on hit singles like "The World Is a Ghetto" and "Gypsy Man" -- although there was plenty of room for both songs, among others -- the company needed to assemble a second compilation to take care of all the leftover singles and songs that didn't make the first volume. But, they managed to botch The Best of War and More, Vol. 2 as well. Sure, "The World Is a Ghetto," "Gypsy Man," "L.A. Sunshine," "Good, Good Feelin'," and several other R&B hit singles made the cut this time around, but the album is baited by an unnecessary remix of "Spill the Wine" by Junior Vasquez, plus selections from their latter-day albums (such as "Peace Sign") that could have been replaced by more first-rate album tracks in the vein of the killer "Don't Let No One Get You Down." Still, if you want to supplement the first collection, the second volume is necessary. However, if you're going to spring for just two discs of War, you might as well go with the comprehensive double-disc collection, Anthology. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Grooves & Messages: Greatest Hits of War Play

Grooves & Messages is another compilation from Rhino that recycles War's greatest hits and, like the previous collections, it contains most of the hits, but not all of them. The difference is, it actually has all the Top 10 pop hits and the majority of the Top 10 R&B hits (only "LA Sunshine" is missing), and it's sequenced in chronological order -- two important elements that were absent on The Best of War and its sequel, The Best of War & More, Vol. 2. Sounds perfect, doesn't it? The problem is, Grooves & Messages contains a bonus disc of remixes. There are a couple of big-name mixers here, including Armand Van Helden and Ganja Kru, but none of the mixes are of any interest. Furthermore, the casual fans that will want the first disc will have little use for the second. Still, that first disc is the best, most concise collection of War hits on the market, and Grooves & Messages is a specially priced double-disc set, so it may be worth the time of some casual fans, those willing to spend a little bit more to get a good hits collection. However, it would have been nicer if the first disc was available individually. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Anthology (1970-1994) Play

For some reason, there still isn't a truly comprehensive single-disc War collection on the market. Rhino's Grooves and Messages easily comes the closest, although its unnecessary remix disc kicks up the price a bit (and one could argue about a couple of omissions in favor of latter-day tracks). That makes Rhino's own double-disc Anthology (1970-1994) even more valuable -- it might be too much for casual fans who just want War's biggest hits, but there's absolutely nothing missing here. All the hits are included, of course, as well as some overlooked singles and fine album tracks; plus, Anthology does fans a service by gathering the highlights from their uneven later work, which is more disco-tinged and less distinctive. A concise overview this is not; what Anthology illustrates instead is the full scope of War's versatility, and their loping, easygoing way with a groove. War's eclectic, Latin-spiked sound was tremendously distinctive, and if a few tracks get a little too mellow and start to drift, the band's interplay usually redeems the extended jams. Anthology's extensiveness does illustrate that, aside from their big singles, War was often more about musicianship than tight songwriting; thus, two discs' worth will probably be most enjoyable for funk aficionados looking for a different, lighter sort of groove to get lost in. Casual fans are better off with Grooves and Messages, but Anthology is a definitive War package, containing everything most fans will ever need. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi

Collector's Edition: The Eight Original Play

Simply put, this box includes eight studio albums by War, the stellar Southern California unit that had been together in one form or another -- and with different names and personnel -- since 1962, though they didn't begin recording until 1970 as Eric Burdon's backing band. While Burdon moved on, predictably, the unit, enhanced by the Danish born harmonica player Lee Oskar, embarked on a string of recordings beginning with their self-titled album in 1971, followed by a most impressive run throughout most of the '70s, when the band dropped only the self-titled offering, but also revealed the genius that became All Day Music, The World Is a Ghetto, Deliver the Word, Why Can't We Be Friends?, and Platinum Jazz. Along with Mandrill, War ushered in a near perfect meld of funk, jazz, Latin rhythms, soul, gospel, and rock, played with virtuosity and requisite passion.
This Rhino set -- first released in 1994 -- collects the aforementioned albums plus 1982's big-selling Outlaw that featured the title track and "Cinco de Mayo," and 1994's reunion album Peace Sign, that included the singles "I'm the One (Who Understands)," and "East L.A.," in addition to the title cut. Rhino has remastered all of the original albums, though there is no extra material on any of the discs; however, they don't need any. As self-contained albums go, most of these were perfect. While the live album is also missing here, it is basically superfluous and should be heard on its own. The box is handsome, yet is has no liner notes and all of these albums are available individually, so it's difficult to know who this set will appeal to -- better a box set of LPs should have been issued. The music, however, remains the focus and for that reason alone this can't be beat. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi
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