Turn That Noise Down - En Vogue

Band in a cobbled street, wearing berets and French looking outfits.

So many well-known albums turn 30 this year and Steve Taylor-Bryant and Susan Omand travel back to 1992 to revisit some of the sounds of their youth that made parents shout "Turn that noise down!" This week, Susan goes all Funky Diva ...

“No, you’re never gonna get it,
Never ever gonna get it”

Reader, I got it. Eventually. The album that is. En Vogue was probably my first foray into buying just one album by female driven R&B groups (to be followed by TLC, my love/hate relationship with All Saints, and rounding off with Destiny’s Child) and the song My Lovin' (You’re Never Gonna Get it) was the cause. The intro, the tight harmonies and the downright sassy strut of the bassline ensured that I listened when it hit the radiowaves back in 1992. But, even though the album came out in March 1992, it wasn’t until the autumn of that year that I bought Funky Divas, because that was when Free Your Mind was released as a single, proving to my illogical brain that the band was more than a one hit wonder so I should probably buy the album, and it’s still my favourite song on there. But what of the rest of it?

Funky Divas definitely lives up to its name. The album starts with backstage “noise” as the band get ready to hit the stage for This Is Your Life which, when it happens, it’s pure 70s soul in the guitar and, although the pingy noises from the keyboards undercutting the vocals is distracting, the instrumental break is pure jazz piano and brilliant. My Lovin’ is next and really is the bop that the lyrics say it is, with the phrase repetition really helping to drive the rhythm. The monsoon of harmonics in the breakdown is very big-band sounding too, which is always a good thing. Hip Hop Lover should have had a stronger rapper (here, it is someone called Wayne Jackson) with a staccato bite to balance the sultriness of the slurred notes in the melody but it’s still ok.

Free Your Mind follows this and is superb from the very first line “Prejudice. Wrote a song about it. Wanna hear it?” The guitars are heavier, the vocals are edgier, the harmonies are, if anything, even closer and it is still very much a song for current times. It’s followed by Desire, which is the Kylie Minogue to Free Your Mind’s Christina Aguilera [I’m glad you know what you mean – Ed] – it’s a lot softer, more subtle with almost spoken lyrics in bits and incredible brass in the background, giving it a smoky late-night feel. That late night feel of the brass continues with Giving Him Something He Can Feel, written back in the day by Curtis Mayfield and is so redolent of the era. From the sublime to the ridiculous and It Ain’t Over Till the Fat Lady Sings. Boy, there’s a lot going on there but not all of it was a good idea.

Give It Up Turn It Loose starts with an echo of what’s to come in the next song, harmonics around the chorus of Yesterday but then settles, after some literal discussion, to the solid gold sound of the seventies from the chug of the backing to the pan-pipey flutey whistly thing. Then we really do get a cover of the Beatles classic Yesterday and I’d say it’s even better than the original [you would say that anyway – Ed] because the uptick in the tempo really takes the whiny pathos out of it. The harmonies are astounding too. Hooked on Your Love follows, another Curtis Mayfield cover where the brass/piano highlights lift it beautifully from being a sixties clone. The almost siren-like (in a lot of ways) Love Don’t Love You comes next and the minimal, atonal jazz backing helps to showcase strong vocals. What Is Love is the last “proper” song on the album and rounds things off with a very nineties disco feel, just with added weirdness. I say “rounds things off” but there’s one final track on the album that is 45 seconds of gorgeous, ethereal noise.

It is to my shame that I haven’t listened to Funky Divas for, ooh, about 29 of the last 30 years and I’ll definitely give it some more airtime now that I’ve rediscovered it. As they say, “Free your mind and the rest will follow.”

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