December 30, 2015

The Undisputed Truth - The Undisputed Truth (1971)


If you give a fuck at all about my personal taste, you'll know that I'm not the biggest Motown fan. I think people that crown it "the best soul label of all time" over Stax or Goldwax are out of their fucking element. In my opinion, Motown just turned out a bunch of fluttery pop-soul fluff that doesn't really compete with the genre's best. Of course you can appreciate that type of shit for what it is, I mean, who doesn't love Shorty Long's Here Comes The Judge or the danceable shit The Four Tops or The Supremes put out, but when it comes to soul substance, Stax usually has them beat. Keep in mind I've grown up in the South, I've developed an ear for Southern and West coast hip hop and I love dirty hard-bop and soul jazz, so that might have something to do with that preference. All that being said, The Undisputed Truth is the undisputed best thing Motown ever did. The group is the brainchild of Motown's most sensational producer, Norman Whitfield, whose production techniques are synonymous with Motown's success.

Unfortunately, in my eyes at least, when not producing for The Temptations, Whitfield's dope techniques with plenty of potential were squandered on the softest, most innocent sounding pop-soul in the world (yeah I know, hate me, I can take it). The producer kept trying to stab at the psychedelic soul concept Sly and The Family Stone popularized, but comparing his previous psych-soul attempts to Sly or Funkadelic is like comparing Sgt. Pepper's to The Piper At The Gates of Dawn. Whitfield finally locked shit down by grooming Motown's most flamboyant group, The Undisputed Truth. The band benefits from Norman's usual arrangements and recording innovations; he doesn't go balls to the wall psychedelic, but the added echoes and dubbing does benefit the music and his tamer production style. The group does some exceptional pop-soul tracks laced with the slightest amount of psychedelia (the overall aesthetic is actually pretty comparable to the work of Gil Scott-Heron), but the album's keystone track is a ten minute version of Ball Of Confusion--dominated by a popping and aggressive riff and wonderfully mixed vocals. The vocalists have stellar voices and know how to use them, of course none are as iconic as Marvin, Curtis, Isaac, Gil, George, Al, or Stevie. "Oh well Otto, those are the greatests of all time, you can't knock these singers for not being at that level". Well, I'm not, because these singers are great, and the fact that I'm comparing them to the greats is a pretty nice compliment--the only thing holding this group back from divine status is that it doesn't have a franchise singer to drive it. The Undisputed Truth's first album is one of the few Motown records I can actually say I love and the grooves lead to this being one of my theoretical 15 favorite soul albums of all time.

Sample

The Undisputed Truth