I’m not sure if Sweet Exorcist is the most underrated album of all time. I do know that it would make the short list for such a title. Popular opinion dictates that this record marked the moment when Curtis stopped making classics; but for my money, it’s actually his best album not named Superfly. Some of the rawest, hardest-hitting music I’ve ever heard is present here.
The album is bookended by “Ain’t Got Time” and “Make Me Believe in You,” two numbers which go hand-in-hand with each other. They exude urgent yet stripped-down funk, and do a perfect job opening and closing the album. Also cut from the same cloth: “To Be Invisible” and “Suffer,” a pair of powerful ballads.
These are incredible songs, as well as “Power to the People,” which is uplifting yet directly political in classic Mayfield fashion. There are two particular cuts on Sweet Exorcist, however, which are among the all-time greats. The first is the title track, which manages to be peaceful, packed with emotion and subtly badass all at once. The other: “Kung Fu,” the album’s big single. Sometimes written off as a gimmicky “me too” from the “Kung Fu Fighting” era, it’s actually one of the grittiest, rawest funk tracks ever recorded.
The production is uniformly excellent, albeit in a way far different from the lush arrangements of Curtis or Superfly. The closest comparison, stylistically, would be Roots’ key track “Underground.” If you’re like me and consider that one of Mayfield’s finest songs, Sweet Exorcist will resonate with you in a big way. —Sterling