Heatwave - Central Heating (expanded reissue) (2015)

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Unforgettable songs such as “Always and Forever,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Mind Blowing Decisions” have forever ensured Heatwave’s place in the books of great soul bands through the ages. Nonetheless, their cultural and stylistic impact during the 1970s as a unique and eclectic international soul/funk collective is sometimes overlooked. Nearly 40 years after its initial release, listening to the group’s sophomore album, 1977’s Central Heating (newly reissued on CD by BBR), provides a smorgasbord of examples of the rich and down-to-earth musicality that has endeared them to a wide range of audiences through the decades.

Unforgettable songs such as “Always and Forever,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Mind Blowing Decisions” have forever ensured Heatwave’s place in the books of great soul bands through the ages. Nonetheless, their cultural and stylistic impact during the 1970s as a unique and eclectic international soul/funk collective is sometimes overlooked. Nearly 40 years after its initial release, listening to the group’s sophomore album, 1977’s Central Heating (newly reissued on CD by BBR), provides a smorgasbord of examples of the rich and down-to-earth musicality that has endeared them to a wide range of audiences through the decades.

While stateside outfits such as Brick and Brass Construction were beginning to make their mark, Heatwave offered a creatively fused brand of funk, disco, and soul notably emboldened by the distinguished lead vocal talents of Americans Keith and Johnnie Wilder. The sheer contrast of the hopelessly romantic “Always and Forever” and effortlessly riveting “Boogie Nights” on the group’s 1976 debut LP, Too Hot to Handle, signaled a multi-dimensional approach that brought about enthusiastic reception from both pop and R&B fans in the States and listeners throughout Europe. Perhaps owing in part to the band’s multi-national makeup (British, Swiss, and Jamaican), the sounds found on their recordings were shaded with the influences of many genres—and not stifled by a predetermined formula.

Following up such breakout success might have been a daunting task, but Heatwave escaped falling short or bowing to outside pressures on Central Heating. The bustling groove, guitar licks, and sanguine vocal hooks of “The Groove Line” quickly continued their hot streak, as did the enchantingly mellow, mid-paced jam, “Mind Blowing Decisions.” In addition to these hits, the boys (along with producer Barry Blue and arranger John Cameron) delivered a solid selection of satisfying uptempo dancers and slower, more contemplative ballads. Prime proof of the former lies in the irresistibly sticking title cut, a playfully serious romp spotlighted by Keith Wilder’s nifty enunciation and pliable phrasing. The group’s far-reaching, scat-like backing harmonies and Eric Johns’ unfaltering guitar lines add to the swingin’ mood, which is guided by an impressive aggregate of appealing metaphors for getting through everyday life. Meanwhile, the ethereal orchestration and chordings of “The Star of a Story” demonstrate a consummate understanding of hypnosis by means of a slow-jam.

As is clear on the aforementioned title cut, it wasn’t simply tight musicianship that solidified Heatwave’s reign—but also creatively phrased story lines with a definitively relatable quotient. On Central Heating, the pleasantly anthemic “Send Out for Sunshine” expresses hope for escape from daily stressors: “The taxman came to call, he wants to take my TV/Folks around the hall keep makin’ faces at me”; the closing “Leaving for a Dream” searches for an elusive answer to a love affair on the rocks (“Gonna leave all the crowds and climb through the clouds/And look at life the way we used to do/While I’m high in the sky, maybe I’ll find that you’re dreaming, too”).

It would be remiss to not mention the pivotal role of Heatwave’s Rod Temperton (piano/synths/organ) on Central Heating. He penned seven of the set’s nine tunes, displaying a breadth of melody, harmony, and technicality that made his mega-success merely several years later penning nuggets such as Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You,” George Benson’s “Give Me the Night,” and Quincy Jones’ “Razzamatazz” no big shock. Balancing precision with flexibility and true depth with pure fun, his compositional acumen provided a firm template from which Heatwave could truly shine in a variety of contexts.

For both its fresh flavor amidst the wide seas of ‘70s soul, and its remarkably consistent quality throughout, Central Heating is Heatwave in its prime—and this reissue is a fine commemoration of the group’s legacy. Recommended.

[Editor's Note: This expanded edition includes 12" versions of "The Groove Line" and "Mind Blowing Decisions" as well as the additional cut "Wack that Axe"]

by Justin Kantor
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