Though the title of War's new album, Deliver the Word, is probably meant to be an emblem for the band's sense of its incantatory powers, it is best taken as a plea. Apparently no deliveries were made at the studio, incantatory or otherwise. The music if not the ambience is evidence that everyone was waiting at those sessions, perhaps for some songwriters to arrive before the tunes were recorded, or for some soloists to show up before the final tracks were mixed.
Impressive as War seemed in the past, the questionable logic of a horn section composed of saxophone and harmonica and, even more, the monopolizing solo role of harmonica alone, was always cause for alarm. While the blend of the two instruments was at times peculiarly attractive, it somehow seemed wrong rather than original; a close listen to Lee Oskar's harp only confirmed the lunacy of allowing him to ride at all.
The band's new "Gypsy Man" is its best spokesman: "I travel the winding road - And no one seems to care." One cares, alas, less and less. The formula that made "Slippin' Into Darkness" a hit (the same, revised at the edges, that rocketed "Cisco Kid") contained elements so perishable that "Gypsy Man" and "Southern Part of Texas" - fresh attempts to duplicate that cool, winning groove - prove just how mechanical War's melodic instincts really are. Though astonishingly dreary, these effete repetitions are the sole examples of anything like songs on the entire album.
So pointless, for example, is the failed melodrama of the instrumental "H2 Overture" (and to fail at soap is lameness incarnate) that the screams, whispers, grunts, and moans of the succeeding ballad are almost relief.
The band hardly works as an organic unit at all. Bass and drums sound wholly distinct, rarely meshed in the love-tangle of funky rhythm sections. Parts as well as solos have been scoured of detail, much less of feeling, to produce (intentionally, it seems) the blandness symbolized so well by Oskar's vapid harmonica.
The failure of formula seems at last to have unbelted the sinewy masquerade of a group with nothing at all to say.
Originally published in Fusion, December 1973