It turns out The Payback was originally conceived and composed as a soundtrack to a blaxploitation film and it shows in the lyrical material. The title track is a story about revenge and several tracks like "Shoot Your Shot" and "Stone to the Bone" reference violence or a character's badassery. And all of the tracks are serious funk workouts, with the second half of the album reaching track lengths beyond ten minutes.
The exceptions to the funk workout routine on the album are soul tracks "Doing the Best I Can" and "Forever Suffering", giving a little contrast and balance to the otherwise energetic funk sound. As with Hell, the tracks feature a bit of a loose improvisational structure with endless vocal riffing by James Brown like in "Doing the Best I Can" where his background singers repeat "I'm for real" over for a couple minutes as the band continues the same musical refrain and James Brown improvises a series of sentiments. But unlike Hell, the need for each track to conform to a specific purpose in the movie gives each track a kind of focus that helps tie it down despite the improvisation.
The focus on related themes gives The Payback an almost concept album feel, which helps give it a cohesion beyond the general James Brown sound that inundates the album. This is also further amplified by the high degree of execution of performance in each track by Brown and his band making it unexpectedly more interesting as an album than other James Brown releases. Some of Browns tendencies for extended repeated musical phrases over improvisation can drag at times, but it's also made up for by Brown's incredible energy with his shouts and wailing along with calls for punchy horns driving and sometimes piercing through the repeated phrases.
And all that somehow makes The Payback an engrossing musical work that not only impresses on the level that individual James Brown tracks often do, but together as an album thanks to the adherence of the tracks to a greater theme. It's a funk journey into a story of revenge, regret, and last chances filled with quality performances, memorable licks, and the kind of energy that only the hardest working man in show business could output. A must-listen for funk lovers and those that like Brown, but the extended jamming in the individual tracks might be a little much for funk or James Brown neophytes. Still one of the finest Brown releases I've ever put ear to. 9/10.
- The Payback
- Doing the Best I Can
- Take Some... Leave Some
- Shoot Your Shot
- Forever Suffering
- Time Is Running Out Fast
- Stone to the Bone
- Mind Power