Music: God is in the Details
THE INDEPENDENT'S GUIDE TO POP'S FIDDLY BITS NO 7: TURN ON, TUNE IN, COP OUT
Friday 04 June 1999
It's not hard to hear why "Turn On..." is a classic. Hardly a note is wasted. Every detail counts: every motif, every inflection, from the exquisitely understated lead vocal to the rumbustiously uncool trombone solo. Slater's partner in Freak Power was the DJ/ musician Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).
As a pop radio track and club dance record, "Turn On..." is a textbook example of form following function: the groove is tight where it needs to be and baggy in all the right places. Slater's previous funk outings with Microgroove, co-led with his fellow Loose Tube John Eacott, generally lacked the sheer focus, style and killer instinct demonstrated by Freak Power's big hit.
And as a piece of songwriting "Turn On...", credited to Cook, is a masterly synthesis, full of impeccably well-chosen influences from funk, soul and electronic dance sources. These include Curtis Mayfield, Tower of Power and Sly Stone, of whose all-pervading but strangely unacknowledged influence Mark-Anthony Turnage spoke eloquently in The Independent last year. "Turn On..." has no real chord changes, just a riff, a vamp and a series of interlocking hooks as expertly balanced as one of John Harrison's clocks.
Had it featured a sax or (God forbid) a guitar solo, "Turn On..." would have remained merely a good track, but the trombone break lifts it to greatness. With his masterly blow Slater triumphantly enters the underpopulated hall of fame for funk-pop trombonists - Fred Wesley, Dave Bargeron, Peter Thoms, Annie Whitehead, Rico... As a singing "bone doctor", Slater is on his own and entirely of his time. As Freak Power say in the liner notes for Drive-Thru Booty: "Once we get out of the Seventies, the Nineties will make the Sixties look like the Eighties."
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