Picks and Pans Review: Wise Guy

updated 08/02/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/1982 01:00AM

Kid Creole and the Coconuts

Born in Montreal of black and French-Canadian parentage, August Darnell (a/k/a Kid Creole) grew up in the melting pot of the South Bronx but never quite melted. In school he flaunted what he has called his "half-breed" status and, as a budding musician, drew freely from Latin, rock, funk and R&B, as well as reggae and calypso. Darnell's eclectic approach made Kid Creole's breezy first two albums refreshing. In New York, the band's stage show, which fleshed out the songs with costumes, dialogue, pantomime, dancing and a fanciful plot line, became a cult attraction that eclipsed the group's records, good as they were. Wise Guy won't pale no matter what kind of staging it receives, though. On the surface, it's narrow in style—R&B is the main touchstone. But that focus gives the album unity. The fluid rhythms and fetching melodies remain irrepressibly Darnell's. The lyrics are his best—witty, cogent and coherent enough for Broadway. In the duet Loving You Made a Fool Out of Me, he sings, "I didn't know that keeping you happy depended on me being wealthy and cool." To which one of the female Coconuts responds, "I didn't know that keeping you happy depended on me being under your rule." The subject of Stool Pigeon is a flapmouth ex-con to whom the FBI gives "a spanking new identity.../He bought a plane, a boat and jewelry/But he couldn't buy any company." This LP is Darnell's most bounteous concoction.

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