To dig Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul is to buy it as something other than semi-funky lounge music. I’m almost there.
The record is rock-soul fusion. But for the beautiful and amazing “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” it tests my patience. Swinging and achieving a hypnotic power, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” is the album’s centerpiece. However, with the possible exception of “One Woman,” Hayes makes every cut an anticlimactic surge. He rearranges the songs into plush, extended jams that boast a few key details—a Lawrence Welk-like propensity for chintzy strings over a solid mid-tempo beat, spiced with female chirps and Hendrix-lite guitar. And it’s all buildup, the buildup fading in and out before it fades in again. The album is poorly paced.
Play this music and you will see lava bubbles in the Courvoisier. Play it and you’ll hear entrance and exit music fit for a Stax-in-Vegas show. ‘Scuse me. Lake Tahoe.
OK. That isn’t the man’s intent. But it is the effect. For me, this helps to explain why Hayes is so good at blaxploitation soundtracks (that rarely transcend their station*): The sound is hip, decorative, and stringy. Like Hendrix, he’s weakest as a singer, and where Hendrix made himself felt, Hayes does not. (On that basis alone, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is a dud. Over a soft cymbal and a sustained note on the organ, he raps for eight ungodly minutes.) Compared to James Brown, he rarely commands a hot groove. He commands the aural background instead: He doesn’t get in your face. He’s just—cool.
So, forget his looks, his chops. And put aside the fact that ace Southern musicians and technicians contribute to the Isaac Hayes “movement.” The soul part of the equation is the cool, deliberative way that Hayes seeks to infuse the material with cool.
I hear enough to keep digging.
*The “Theme from Shaft” is dope.