Anyone remember The Family? Masterminded by their mentor, Prince, and rising from the ashes of The Time, the group had a Top 10 US R&B hit in 1985 with the funk-infused ‘Screams Of Passion’ and then issued an eponymous debut LP that featured the first recording of the memorable Prince-scribed ballad, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U.’ Released on Paisley Park, the album was a strong and attractive amalgam of soul, pop and funk flavours, and with its distinctive and moody string arrangements by jazz veteran, Clare Fischer, was strikingly different from other Prince side-projects. But as happened with the majority of Prince-related offshoots (many of which were unremarkable vanity projects), The Family were unable to sustain their career beyond a solitary album. Now, some 26 years after their demise, the group are back performing and recording in the guise of fDeluxe (the name-change was prompted to avoid a potential legal battle with Prince). Led by the twin lead vocals of St. Paul (Peterson) and Susannah Melvoin, with Eric Leeds on sax and Jellybean Johnson on drums, fDeluxe have produced a fine album that stylistically sits comfortably alongside the original 1985 album and yet which is far from being a dated museum piece.
The Minneapolis funk element is still present, but there’s a strong, almost palpable, contemporary vibe, which means that ‘Gaslight’ isn’t an empty exercise in retro nostalgia. Eerie string arrangements – a la Clare Fischer – conjure the drama and atmosphere of the first LP and are important in establishing a sense of continuity with the music of the group’s past. But the music sounds freer than the material that Prince gave them back in 1985 – here, fronted by the sensuous vocals of Peterson and Melvoin, they get to show skills and qualities (especially their songwriting) that they were prevented from demonstrating on their 1985 debut and as a consequence, they feel more like a real band now. The infectious ‘Over The Canyon’ with its haunting vocals and funk undertow is an obvious standout track while the more ruminative duet, ‘Beautiful You,’ also catches the ear. From the funky side of town comes ‘Leeds Line,’ which as its title suggests, is a vehicle for saxophonist, Eric Leeds, who was a key figure in giving Prince’s band a funkier, jazzier, sound in the mid-to-late ’80s. Leeds’ sinewy horn licks also feature prominently on ‘@8,’ ‘Sanctified,’ and the edgy title track, whose lyrics refer to duplicity in human relationships. But as well as good uptempo material, ‘Gaslight’ includes some fine low key songs too – both ‘The Vigil’ and the beat ballad, ‘Lover,’ evince a languorous, haunting quality that recalls ‘Nothing Compares 2 U.’ This is an impressive return to the fray, then, for fDeluxe’s Family members – let’s hope it’s not another 26 years until the quartet’s next record.