Examining Albums With Dynamic Bass Performance

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Chic – ‘Chic’ (1977)

Chic dances in contradiction. The group delivers some of the most upbeat disco ever committed to wax, but their ability to mine complexity from pop is also without peer. Songs may repeat choruses ad infinitum, but Chic’s oft-rotating players stretch material for maximum musicality. No member exemplifies this spirit more than stalwart bassist Bernard Edwards — and Edwards rarely honed his ability better than on Chic’s self-titled 1977 debut.

Many casual fans would write off Edwards’ style as simply capable, given how organic and effortless the lines sound within the mix. But his complex phrasing, mixed with energetic fills, drive the whole band.

Chic starts off with the smash “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).” Edwards waxes percussive on this track, holding down the beat with drummer Tony Thompson while injecting some well-placed slides and hammering. While on point, it’s almost as if he’s waiting for the commercial stuff to get out of the way before opening up.

And once he does, does he ever strut! Chic gets their yacht-rock on for the instrumental “São Paulo,” but Edwards simply uses the track as an excuse to bounce all over his frets. The song might veer into jazz-lite territory, but he runs roughshod, flying over his instrument at a faster pace than the laid-back beat might inspire. Although Edwards stretches his palate to include many different types of fills, he does never overplays and takes much of the melody throughout this jam.

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The Police – ‘Zenyattà Mondatta’ (1980)

Before Sting turned into a tantric, lute-wielding egomaniac, he fronted and played bass for one of the tightest bands of the late-‘70s and early-‘80s. Although The Police are best known for their huge and oft-brilliant classic rock staples (“Every Breath You Take,” “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” etc.),  they were unwittingly ushering in a branch of New Wave which thrived on equal parts melody and punk ferocity.

Their third album, 1980’s Zenyattà Mondatta, has been written off by many critics — and even the band itself — in the years since its release, with tight deadlines and group conflict cited as difficult hurdles during production. But there is plenty of substance behind this overlooked classic, most importantly as a showcase for Sting’s role as a bass player.

Lyrically, the album is uneven at best, jumping from a Lolita rewrite on “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” before dipping into the absurdist psychology of “Canary In A Coalmine” and further transitioning to anti-war sarcasm in “Bombs Away” — with little narrative thread. But what is lacking in poetic cohesion is more than made up for by Sting’s lockstep rhythmic control with drummer Stewart Copeland. Copeland is routinely regarded as one of the industry’s best drummers , and his tight, jazzy style is the glue which held the group together. As Sting perfected the ebb and flow of his instrument with Copeland’s, the results were extraordinary.

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