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The Headhunters – Return of the Headhunters

Polygram Records, 1998

As you may already know I’m a lover of good cover art, so this record stole my eyes immediately.  Science fiction, aliens, and retro style makes this cover one of the better ones I’ve seen in my cheap digging travels.  If you take a closer look, the alien in the middle of the group is sporting a keyboard!  It is also obvious that the alien shouted out “Any requests, earthlings?!” and the guys at the fore front shot their hands up to request “Axel F”.   Really, everyone should be prepared if aliens beam down and ask for song requests.  Otherwise you’ll get stuck with a sleep-inducing rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Space Saucer”.

Even though the cover art could make for a fantastic punk record splash, the Headhunters unfortunately are not anywhere near the land of punk.  They go for the smooth jazz take instead.  Herbie Hancock, labeling himself as a special guest on the record, assists with his keyboard expertise to get the regular quartet rolling.  Unfortunately, this regular quartet is not the traditional jazz of old where they perform music that has some empty space and crisp sounds that make you feel you’re in the room with the performer.  This is the new jazz flair … and it’s a little too much.

Perhaps there is a fan base out there that likes the peppy jazz funk that the Headhunters prefer to deliver.  There may be folks out there that enjoy the snappy drums and well-produced saxophone licks that permeate all over “6/8 – 7/8”, which is arguably the best track on the record.  It helps that the tune blends all instruments together in a cohesive, energizing composition that dips and speeds up at times.  If there is any track on the disc that could harken back to the earlier days it’s this one.

Unfortunately, most tracks on the record really grind on you as, for a lack of a better word, cheesy.  It’s just so, so smoothed out that it is not that enjoyable.  “Funk Hunter” is too artificially funky with the keyboard overload and slick saxophone that it’s grating on the ears.  I would rather listen to real funk than this re-animated corpse of a song.  “Watch Your Back” has a rap in it that might work for a smoky bar somewhere late at night, but it comes across as too trite.  It also features this soulful female singer that tries to convince the listener that the Headhunters are some kind of innovative force.  If they are sounding like early eighties easy listening music, I think the singer got herself brainwashed.  The band as a whole permeates a feeling of “please hold on the line, all representatives are busy” music.  (shudder)

“Frankie and Kevin” slows things down to a crawl with a drum beat that, yeeeeuch, is such a weather channel sound.  Piano is nice to hear but is not enough to save this grab at smooth saturation.  Although the track eventually picks up with a driving sax solo it is too late.  Skipping a few tracks to “Tip Toe” one runs into that soulful female singer again.  Man, I don’t know if it’s her or the band but I find nothing vocally attractive about her.  She sings inoffensively enough even if her freestyle moments get a touch obnoxious, so perhaps it’s that Hancock keyboard that is driving me over the edge.  I just don’t like it.

Perhaps you enjoy jazz fusion with some funk in it.  Maybe you like your jazz really smooth.  In that case, listen to a few tunes at the Headhunter’s Myspace page.

So yeah, even though someone like Herbie Hancock is involved this album just couldn’t get anything going for me.  Perhaps I’m too stuck on the styles of Coltrane, Davis, and Ellington to appreciate the record, I don’t know.  It just had way too many instances that made me feel it was completely overdone and uninteresting.  Like I mentioned earlier, the music on this Headhunters record severely comes across as hotel lobby music.  This could be elevator music in a chic hotel perhaps, or maybe a lounge on a cruise ship.  Honestly, it’s background music for exciting weather forecasts that pump you up when a robot voice declares “And now, your forecast.”  Oh yeah!

I think part of the letdown was that the group had a killer cover that looked to stand out as a real rousing listening experience.  Oh well, no go on that.  Maybe they should think about going punk.

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