Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1985 Sister Sledge: Frankie

Purportedly a homage to Frank Sinatra, 'Frankie' is light years away from the rampant disco strut of 'We Are Family' or 'Lost In Music' and instead harks back to the sound of the Red Bird girl bands (I can hear 'borrowed' motifs aplenty from 'Leader Of The Pack' in this) complete with fingerclicks and doo-wop 'ooh ooh's', albeit with an smooth and updated R&B production courtesy of the ever ubiquitous Nile Rodgers.

Out go the piledriving walking funk rhythms and in comes a light and breezy groove with ample space to park some jazzy, almost salsa brass interludes and a spongy bass motif that sounds like it's being plucked with a matchstick instead of the usual oboe nail.
And fair enough; with a lyric that's a wistful remembrance of things past rather than the totemistic calls to arms of old, it needs a backing more fitted to soundtrack a winebar than the disco floor.

All of this sounds fine on paper, and it's a fact that 'Frankie' became the Sister's only UK number one but - and it's a big but - it's also one of the least interesting and least memorable songs in their canon. 'Frankie' suffers not so much from sounding nothing like Sister Sledge, but it sounds like it simply has no heart; everything from Rodger's production, the arrangements to the musicians and vocals are all millimetre perfect and never put a foot wrong, but rather than being worked up in the studio by the usual powerhouse Chic duo of Rodgers/Edwards, 'Frankie' was written by an 'outsider' and there's a dry blueprint where the pulse should be.

'Frankie', like some Mannerist painting, is difficult to engage with at any level other than admiration of the superficial virtuosity on display. It would matter not a jot whether you heard it one or one hundred times - repeated plays do not reward in any way because 'Frankie' has no secrets to give up and this probably goes some way to explaining why it gets precious little airplay anymore while 'He's The Greatest Dancer' will still pack any dancefloor. 'Frankie' is an interesting curio that more or less rounded off the Sister's career, but it's not what they are or will be remembered for.

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