This is generally regarded as one of James Brown’s greatest live LPs – right up there with the seminal first volume of ‘Live At The Apollo’ recorded in 1963 – but the reality is that half of ‘Sex Machine’ (it came out as a 2-LP set on King in 1970) was recorded in an Augusta studio and then was drenched in extra reverb and overdubbed canned applause. But this deception – which was quite commonplace in the ’60s and ’70s, especially where James Brown was concerned – doesn’t really matter because the album is a stone cold classic and a searing funk manifesto that launched a thousand hip-hop samples. All four sides of the original vinyl have been squeezed onto a single CD for this hi-def remaster by France’s Culture Factory label, though they’ve packaged it in a facsimile of the gatefold sleeve it was first issued in.
‘Sex Machine’ was an album that premiered JB’s new band of young guns, including Bootsy Collins on bass and his brother, Catfish, on guitar and they bring a streetwise rawness and urgency to the proceedings, especially on the album’s classic title cut , where The Godfather’s polyrhythmic funk aesthetic reached its apotheosis. ‘Brother Rapp’ digs into a deeper groove – a relentless, mesmeric juggernaut – while ‘I Got The Feelin,” ‘Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose,’ ‘Mother Popcorn,’ and ‘There Was A Time’ are driven by a turbocharged sense of propulsion (thanks to the late Clyde Stubblefield’s and Jabo Starks’ kinetic drums) that crystallises the febrile combustible intensity of a Brown concert in the early ’70s.
Not everything happens at an explosive 100 MPH, though, and offering a brief respite from the remorseless funk rollercoaster ride are some slow ballads (among them, JB’s faithful standbys, ‘Bewildered,’ and ‘If I Ruled The World’) demonstrating that James Brown could sing as well as scream and holler. While ‘Sex Machine’ was a double LP set that confirmed that Soul Brother Number One was the undisputed king of funk in 1970, it was an album that also paid tribute to his past, as the inclusion of his old hits ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ and ‘Please, Please, Please,’ prove.
Forty-seven years after the fact, this superlative reissue shows us that ‘Sex Machine’ has lost none of its power and, whether totally live or not (it’s a moot point), it remains not only one of James Brown’s defining albums but also is undoubtedly one of the very best that soul and funk music has to offer.