THE SYSTEM: ‘System Overload’ (Science Lab Records)

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Back in 1982, singer/guitarist Mic Murphy (a former member of the late-’70s Big Apple band, Sass) and session keyboardist David Frank joined forces to become The System, a duo that pioneered the use of electronic gadgetry in post-disco dance music. Recording for the Atlantic-distributed Mirage label, they scored a Top 10 US R&B smash with ‘You Are In My System’ in ’83, which was lifted from their influential debut album, ‘Sweat.’ The duo’s distinctive sound – mixing R&B with new wave, electro and nascent hip-hop – broke new ground and led the way for synth-led soul and funk in the ’80s. Their biggest record was ’87’s bedroom slow jam, ‘Don’t Disturb This Groove,’ which was a US R&B chart topper but by the end of 1989, Murphy and Frank had gone their separate ways. The pair, whose music had accrued a cult following since their cessation, reconvened in 2000 for the album, ‘ESP,’ but their reunion proved short-lived and Frank went back to session work while Murphy eventually released a solo single, ‘Electro Soul Satisfaction,’ in 2009. Following on from the download-only ‘Unreleased Unleashed’ collection of archival rarities in 2009, Frank and Murphy have collaborated again to produce the first proper new System album in twelve years.

‘System Overload’ doesn’t disappoint and is well worth the long wait. Though its musical DNA is deeply rooted in ’80s techno-funk the album isn’t a museum relic thanks to the fact that Frank and Murphy’s sensibilities aren’t trapped in a time warp. They’ve managed to make their music appear contemporary but without sacrificing any of the key elements of the classic System sound. The opening title track with its fat, raspy, analogue synth patches and stuttering sequenced bass line could have been an outtake from one of the duo’s early Mirage albums. It’s a great cut – edgy, pulsating and featuring a superb vocal from the criminally-underrated Murphy. The mid-tempo ‘Diabolical Love’ is a dark ballad about the insanity of a destructive desire, while the more soulful ‘No Fear Of Flying’ has echoes of the great R&B slow jams that The System were renowned for in the ’80s.

‘Tug O War’ is a catchy slice of edgy, pop-tinged, R&B while the more reflective ‘My Prayer (Temple Of Soul)’ boasts a big anthemic chorus. The duo head straight to the dance floor with the pumping ‘The Toast (To The Good Life)’ and ‘Your Love Is Motha’ is a tightly-sequenced street groove that despite its eyebrow-raising title is a deeply-felt declaration of love. The duo also reboot their biggest hit, the magnificent ‘Don’t Disturb This Groove’ with a new arrangement – there are those, no doubt, who would perceive it as a pointless exercise, but while it doesn’t eclipse the original the new version certainly provides an interesting fresh spin on a vintage classic.

Overall, then, this is a remarkable return from the pathfinding New York cyber-soul duo – let’s hope, then, that they don’t let another decade pass before their next album.

(CW) 4/5