Mic Murphy and David Frank were ahead of their time. Murphy was the vocalist and Frank the keyboardist for the 1980s R&B/dance/techno band The System. The group is best known for their 1984 hit “You Are In My System” and their 1987 mega smash “Don’t Disturb This Groove.” The band was distinguished by Murphy’s smooth vocals as well as lyrics that were a step above what was often heard in dance music. The System’s production values were cutting edge for the 1980s. In fact, I went back and listened to the band’s two biggest hits on You Tube, and both cuts hold up pretty well today.
Murphy and Frank include updated vocal and instrumental versions of “Don’t Disturb This Groove,” on their new album System Overload. The band doubles down on the technology on the updates. However, “Don’t Disturb This Groove,” version 1.0 hardly sounds like a relic. Those not aware of their history could hear both and conclude that the newer version is a remix. That’s a testament to how forward leaning the original “Don’t Disturb This Groove” turned out to be.
Ironically, the biggest factors in The System’s comeback are the qualities that predate the digital revolution – solid vocals, infectious melodies and good songwriting. All three can be heard throughout The System’s latest project, the very good System Overload.
Murphy’s voice is a lively and soulful as it was when “You Are In My System” served as his musical introduction to the masses. Murphy spits his words out rapid fire on the propulsive dance number “The Toast (to the Good Life),” but his vocals manage to maintain a distinctive soulfulness.
The bouncy, hip-hop influenced “Tug O War” is crafted to draw dancers to the floor. Still, it’s the theme and the lyrics that elevate this post-modern R&B jam. The track employs the schoolyard game as a metaphor for two lovers who are constantly at odds and attempt to impose their will on the other: “You go enemy/I take the blows/You hittin’ way to low/It’s hand to hand/It’s toe to toe/And we settle up the score/We drawin’ lines/We never compromise/The innocent caught in the middle/Just have to pick a side.” The chorus proves that Murphy and Frank are still the masters of the catchy hook: “You say it’s day/I say it’s night/We just can’t agree anymore/You say it’s wrong/I say it’s right/Keep getting’ in this tug of war.” It kind of seems right that a song about conflict has two choruses with contrasting views. “Come on let me in your corner/And take off your body armor/Maybe we should join our forces/Our love is like a tug o war/you know we don’t need defense/Making love is our consensus/Maybe we should join our forces/And maybe we could end this tug o war?”
Musical tastes change, and there are a couple of ways that veteran artists can respond. They can stay true to the style that brought them fame, or they can seek to adjust to the musical styles and tastes of the day. If an artists elects for the former he risks being labeled as a relic, and the latter creates risks of continually being one or two steps behind the ever changing musical landscape. However, if there is one theme that comes from listening to System Overload, it’s that the time might just be now for these two music industry veterans who have been on the grind for 30 plus years. Pull aside the technology and you have what has always been the foundation of the best music: Strong melodies, great vocals and lyrics that say something. And that is timeless. Highly Recommended.
By Howard Dukes