Guitarist Nile Rodgers co-produced David Bowie’s best — uh, best-sounding — album. So does the runaway success of Let’s Dance mean Rodgers is a musical mastermind? Chic’s string of hits (the group’s own as well as productions for others) suggests the answer is yes; Rodgers’ first solo LP, however, begs to differ. Nile proves he can make a fair-to-middling one-man Chic (no mean feat), but a visionary he’s not — unless you define vision as smug sexism. The neatest touch on the record is the mass of chorus vocals sung with a drum machine “at P.S. 111 playground right after school,” according to the sleeve notes. A pity that same song (“Yum-Yum”) is a rude meditation on the desirability of “poontang.”
Complete with 3-D cover (but no glasses), B-Movie Matinee reflects Rodgers’ cinematic tastes, offering such promising referents as “Plan-9,” “Doll Squad” and “The Face in the Window.” Unfortunately, while the music is unassailable (especially Jimmy Bralower’s precision drumming and Rodgers’ snappy guitar work), the thankfully smug-free lyrics aren’t half as good as the titles. Nonetheless, a state-of-the-art dance record. (And the dreamy ballad, “Wavelength,” is lovely.)
Instead of making a third solo album, Rodgers formed Outloud, a stylistic crossover band with Philippe Saisse (keyboards, vocals) and Felicia Collins (guitar, vocals). Armed with more hi-tech equipment than the Pentagon, the trio synthesizes, samples and strums its way through this airy, digitally recorded LP of sophisticated rock/soul songs. A mild funk bump occasionally surfaces beneath the shimmering pop veneer, but generally the perky rhythms don’t come near breaking a sweat. The romantically geared songs (all three write) are ideal for radio and club play, replacing typical contemporary pounding with a refined, skipping beat. “Circle of Love/Music Lover,” a wonderful and authentic-sounding tribute that breaks the mold and ends the LP on a high note, combines an old S. Stewart tune with a new N. Rodgers one for a joyful re-creation of Sly Stone’s uniquely uplifting dance stand.