Album Reviews

Kleeer: Get Tough: The Kleeer Anthology 1979-1985 (Big Break Records)

kleeer anthology

Kleeer
Get Tough: The Kleeer Anthology 1979-1985
Big Break Records/Cherry Red

The New York band Kleeer excelled in making soulful, dance-floor ready numbers that blended the finest elements of disco, R&B, Soul, and funk. Formed in the early 1970s as The Jam Band, the band would go through a number of permutations, including Pipeline and The Universal Robot Band, before settling down with the name Kleeer in 1978. The quartet would then go on to a prolific career, releasing seven albums in six years. Though they never had a major hit, they consistently performed well enough to have a low-key and loyal following that would bring them to the top 100 most of the time. Get Tough: The Kleeer Anthology is two discs of the band’s highlights, and wonderfully documents the band as it traversed musical styles.

In 1979, Kleeer debuted, bringing two albums of hearty disco with them. Initially, the band took the route of many disco groups of the time, going for a somewhat anonymous appearance. Understandable, too, as the group was segmented with a rotating crew of male and female backing vocalists—including Luther Vandross—and identity was harder to pin. No matter, though; I Love To Dance and Winners were of a pair—groove-heavy epic disco numbers perfect for any party occasion. “I Love To Dance” is an outstanding number that travels the world for a multiculti tribute to the dance floor, while “It’s Magic and “Tonight’s The Night” are superior groovers. Winners’ material was similar, but the band showed more of their soul side on “Open Your Mind” and “Your Way.”

Kleeer must have realized that they were late to the game and that disco was a passing fad; by their third album, 1981’s License To Dream, they had ditched the disco for an upbeat form of R&B that built upon the previous decade’s styles, while delivering something fresh and new.“Get Tough,” an epic eight minute dance jam, is far removed from their earlier work, with more emphasis on soulful vocals, but it’s a definite transition between the decades. “Running Back To You” and “License To Dream” are straight-up R&B, with vocalist Woody Cunningham providing some of his most powerful vocals in Kleeer’s catalog.

Much like their first two records, their next two albums appeared in 1982. <I>Taste The Music</i> was the lesser of the two, as it found the band being more experimental. “Taste The Music” is a funk track that owes a bit to both Kraftwerk and George Clinton, while “De Thing Continues” is noticeably an attempt to mimic Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and while its groove is excellent, its vocals simply are too derivative of the original. “Wall To Wall” is a fine mid tempo funk number, <I>Get Ready</I> is more satisfying, as “Say You’ll Stay” and “She Said She Loves Me” two ballads  more in line with their R&B direction, both heartfelt ballads. The lesser moments don’t detract, but they do feel like explorations into areas that were somewhat out of their reach.

Even though these attempts at experimenting with new sounds might not have worked, by their sixth album, Intimate Connection, they have mastered the futuristic funk/R&B combination that they’re obviously trying to accomplish. “Intimate Connection” is a smooth ballad, while “Tonight” is a funk/techno combination, a futuristic combination of vocoder and synthesizer beat, a combination that’s quite appealing. Their final album, Seeekret, would come in 1985, and the band’s sound is an excellent take on contemporary R&B, part slow groove (“Lay You Down EZ”) and part uptempo pop. If anything, “Seeekret” and “You Got Me Rockin’” predict the forthcoming New Jack Swing trend that would dominate the late 80s and early 90s R&B.

Seeekret didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessors, and shortly after the album’s release, they would quietly disband, moving on to other projects. But the history was clear; Kleeer was a band that had left its mark, and Get Tough highlights the illustrious yet somewhat forgotten catalogue of an excellent dance group.

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