Arriving more than two years after the bright and joyous musical melting pot of STAND! (1969), THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON reflected both the turbulence of a Vietnam War-weary America and the fragmentation of one of the most musically creative bands of the late 1960s, the album's thick, sludgy grooves blanketing Sly and The Family Stone's gift for penning observant social commentary with an undeniable sense of foreboding. With leader Sly Stone wallowing in excess in a rented Los Angeles mansion, drummer Greg Errico would be the first to quit, his place taken by the metronomic throb of the Rhythm King - a primitive drum machine - on several of the tracks, while outside players such as Bobby Womack would contribute to the recording as the sessions dragged on and Sly mixed and remixed the tracks to such a degree that the tapes began to deteriorate; hence, therefore, the album's by-accident foggy - but ultimately hugely influential - sound.
Despite topping the charts in America, people didn't quite know what to make of THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON upon its release in late 1971, but the blissed-out funk of the initial single 'Family Affair' was a stroke of pure genius, while the relatively exuberant 'Runnin' Away' was arguably the one track which best recalled the Sly and The Family Stone of the STAND! era. Elsewhere, though, cynicism towards fame and life itself - a grim acceptance of fate - pervaded such tracks as 'Luv And Haight', 'Brave And Strong' and the downright bizarre 'Spaced Cowboy'. The album was rounded off with an ominous, slowed-down version of the band's 1970 single 'Thank You (Falettinme Be Mic Elf Agin)', retitled 'Thank You For Talkin' To Me Africa', which featured Larry Graham's innovative slap-bass technique well to the fore.
This reissue is, by and large, a beautiful package, which pays worthy tribute to an album whose influence upon the development of black music over the succeeding 40-plus years is impossible to over-estimate. From the box with its embroidered flag covering to the richly detailed book (which does unfortunately contain a couple of annoying printing errors) describing the making of the album and finally to the music itself, one can luxuriate in the greatness of a piece of musical history. Most crucially, the remastering sounds particularly good. I've noticed an Amazon.com review has been posted here which suggests that this set contains simply a reissue of the album's 2007 remaster; however, I beg to differ. I feel that the whole album sounds generally a lot beefier here than on the aforementioned disc - and I don't think this has anything to do with the music being contained on a gold CD, which some say sound better than conventional discs. One quibble I do have, however, is that I am not sure why there is an almost two-minute gap of silence between the 00:06 seconds of the infamously silent title track and the start of 'Brave And Strong'. If this countdown is an attempt to recreate the break in play that you would get when turning a vinyl record over, surely even the most stoned listener back in '71 could have flipped their LP onto side two in less time than this!
There are those of who have claimed that Marvin Gaye's WHAT'S GOIN' ON (also from 1971) is the "black SGT. PEPPER". If so, then Sly and The Family Stone's THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON can make an equally strong case for being black music's EXILE ON MAIN STREET: like The Rolling Stones' album, it too wasn't what people were expecting at first, but its reputation continues to grow as new generations fall under the spell of its flaws, its inconsistencies and, above all, its warped beauty.