Shinin’ On

Grand Funk

Capitol, 1974

http://www.grandfunkrailroad.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/12/2017

Grand Funk hit it big with We’re An American Band in 1973 – finally – and opted to keep Todd Rundgren as producer, Craig Frost on keyboards and the same cleaner sound as that hit album for the follow-up Shinin’ On.

It’s telling that the biggest hit was a cover of “The Loco-Motion,” a stomping and fun pop-rocker that never gets old, but that elicited more interest than the somewhat dour originals. “Shinin’ On” also was a minor hit. But as tough and abrasive as it was, it was hardly the party band of “We’re An American Band,” let alone the sweaty funsters of “Are You Ready?” or the blue-collar epic author of “Loneliness” or “Closer To Home.” It’s new territory, not an easy thing for a band on its ninth album, and it’s ripe for rediscovery if you’ve forgotten about it.

The other six songs veer from soul to blues-rock to “Carry Me Through,” a sort of apocalyptic rocker drench in reverb, Mark Farner hectoring from the great beyond while guitar and keyboard runs sprinkle in and out, buoyed only by a synth wash over the whole thing. It’s quite depressing and layered and portends the underrated my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Born To Die album, as well as the rather bleak lyrics Farner would come to write in the next few years.

The schism between the serious echo-laden rockers and songs like “Loco-Motion,” the Stonesy “Please Me,” and the flat-out soul-rock of “To Get Back In” makes for an inconsistent listen, but it’s rarely an uninteresting one, especially to fans of the group. Those who came on board in 1973 likely weren’t bowled over by this one, nor would they be today, as it returns the group to making music on its own terms (à la Phoenix or E Pluribus Funk) rather than looking for a hit single.

“Gettin’ Over You” is a sort of cross between “Shinin’ On” and the previous album’s “Black Licorice,” bookended by a solid rock piece but falling apart in the middle between a squealing solo section and Farner’s shouting; it and the moribund and weird “Mr. Pretty Boy” are the weakest spots on the disc. The closer “Little Johnny Hooker,” though, is one of the band’s better album tracks, a gritty blues-rocker with a soaring Farner guitar solo and a boogie beat that moves into an acid-rock closing section, where the echo-drenched harmonies from the rest of the album return with Farner’s multi-layered voice. If nothing else, these guys always had a way with their album closing songs.

Yet the album lacks a certain spark, much in the way the dreadful Survival did (there, too, the hit song was a cover instead of an original), and while this is good enough to warrant inclusion in any fan’s catalog, it’s hardly the band’s best effort. Perhaps it was due to exhaustion, or to Rundgren’s production influence, but when the spark has to be generated with studio trickery instead of truly good songs and rock attitude, there’s an issue under the surface. NOTE: Subsequent re-releases of the disc include the bluesy B-side “Destitute And Losin,’” which is of a piece with the rest of the album (reverb-drenched, depressing lyrics, deliberate pacing) and an unnecessary remix of the title track.

Rating: B-

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