Album of the Week 31-2013: War – The World Is A Ghetto


From the iconic album cover to the absolutely irresistible mixture of Funk, Soul, Rock, Jazz, Pop and Latin, ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ was destined to be a classic album from the get-go. It quickly became the best selling album of 1973 and given its wide crossover appeal, that only seems right. But the sales figures hardly matter: this is just music done right. Everything about the album is just perfect. With its swinging rhythms, top-class musicianship, shifts in atmosphere and fabulous shared vocal work, ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ also became one of my all time favorite records. This is definitely one of those “desert island records” for me.

‘The World Is A Ghetto’ was the third album the band released on its own, so without former Animals singer Eric Burdon. And despite having created masterpieces before and since, this is the record where it all the pieces fell in exactly the right places. While War certainly had a knack for writing hit singles, they always let the music do the talking. Many of these songs – especially the longer ones – sound like they have been conceived from jam sessions, yet sound so structured that you don’t have to be an avid muso – like yours truly – to appreciate this.

Starting the album are arguably the two shortest and most accessible songs the album has to offer. A wise choice, as this isn’t scaring anyone away who doesn’t generally like something more intricate. Stylistically, ‘The Cisco Kid’ and ‘Where Was You At’ are quite similar. Funky tracks with stomping rhythms and powerful riffs courtesy of guitarist Howard Scott and bassist B.B. Dickerson. Although arguably, ‘The Cisco Kid’ has a little more of a Latin flavor to it, no doubt fueled by the series that named the track. These are songs for the good times.

Moods are starting to get mixed up a little shortly afterward. The long instrumental ‘City, Country, City’ alternates between almost aggressive Funk riffing and the dreamy atmosphere of the passages lead by Lee Oskar’s harmonica. Each of the seven band members has solo spots in this track and surprisingly, percussionist Papa Dee Allen delivers the most powerful one. After the subdued drama that is the light Blues of ‘Four Cornered Room’, it’s time for this album – and truly one of music’s – finest moment. ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ is a long, beaufitul song with a bittersweet atmosphere, fantastic vocal harmonies and a breathtaking saxophone solo by Charles Miller. The album rounds off with the powerful Jazzy Funk of ‘Beetles In The Bog’.

Anyone who hasn’t heard this album – and its title track in particular – hasn’t fully experienced music yet. Because the album packs so many influences in a number of incredibly well-written songs, ‘The World Is A Ghetto’ is ultimately a very rewarding listening experience. There has yet to be such a perfectly complementary group of musicians, but until another comes along, we should just enjoy this album: the fact that we had the chance to inhale such great music.

Recommended tracks: ‘The World Is A Ghetto’, ‘City, Country, City’, ‘The Cisco Kid’

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