The title of the latest James Chance and the Contortions album, The Flesh Is Weak, is a red herring. If he no longer harbors a "Design to Kill," as hinted in one of his most scathing tunes from the nuclear 1979 debut, Buy, the 63-year-old Chance still has the means to maim.
Young musical dynamos typically don't age well, but this sax, piano, and throat man still harnesses vital inspiration on Flesh. Sure, there are a couple of jazz standards and a heartfelt saunter through a simmering soul ballad by Gil Scott-Heron, but overall Flesh stalks with the bravado of Contortions' no wave days. No longer toying with racial stereotypes as he did with James White and the Blacks (see 1979's sporadically brilliant Off White), Chance devotes himself on the new LP to honing his patented wiry, mutational jazz funk with a new, more horn-laden band, including guitarist/producer Tomás Doncker, who runs True Groove, the label that issued Flesh.
"As far as [Flesh] goes, a lot of people my age, they think they have to be 'mature,' you know, and write songs about being a father or living in the suburbs," Chance says with disdain. "I don't go for that at all. I basically have the same attitude I had back in 1980. I had a lot of lyrics I'd been storing for years. Like 'Snap It Back Strip It Down' and 'Disciplinary Action'; I got that stuff out and put it all together."
Returning to Buy (because it's one of the 20 greatest albums ever), it sounds like a James Brown record made by spazzy white bohemians with chips on their shoulders and an interest in Ornette Coleman's harmolodics. Was it Chance's intention to reinvent funk, or to twist it into heretofore unprecedented shapes?
"Something like that," he says. "It was just one ingredient in the original mix of what went into the Contortions. But it was the most important one. I wanted to have this funky bottom underneath everything. It came out almost backward or something. Not from doing anything intentional, but it was definitely twisted around from the way James Brown would play it."
Chance is the closest anyone has come to fusing the talents and personalities of James Brown and Iggy Pop. For that, he deserves canonization. On "Irresistible Impulse," Chance blurts the line, "I've got a time bomb in my brain." It's clear the fuse is still burning.