Quarter Life Crisis: Destiny Driven

Friday, September 16, 2011

I turn 25 this year and resting in a the comfortable grey area of a 'quarter life crisis'. To celebrate, for the next few weeks of September, I'm recapping some of my favorite albums and singles that are turning the big 2-5 along with me...

Chaka Khan's Destiny is definitely a product of it's time. It's completely saturated in synths. There is some over-the-top drum work by Phil Collins. Scritti Politti produces a number (and influences others). Drum machines ricochet everywhere. You're in a pinball machine of 80's-ness. Yet, all these trappings is a part of the charm this album has, and dammit, this album is just loads of fun.

Destiny had the daunting task of following up 1984's I Feel For You, an album that brought Chaka back to the mainstream after her underrated 1982 self-titled album failed to make a dent in the charts. With her Prince cover in tow, among other singles such as "Through The Fire" and "This Is My Night", the album was a smash and "I Feel For You" scored Chaka a Grammy. No doubt with the success of I Feel For You, Chaka's label was gunning for her to best her peer, Tina Turner, as the sounds on Destiny were leaning into a arena rock vixen mode and Chaka had the voice to carry it off. So she douses her hair with Kool-Aid red dye (long before Rihanna, ha), piles on more jewelry than a fortune teller, and those legendary screams are decibels higher. Sounds like the ingredients for continued success?

Destiny roared no doubt, especially with the production handling by Arif Mardin, but it made a mild squeak on the charts. The first single, the Scritti Politti assisted, "Love Of A Lifetime" was a much warmer single than those from I Feel For You, but somehow folks didn't buy into it, and it set the tone for how the rest of the album was treated. It takes a lot for me to like an album straight on through, but this one is one of those rare cases for me where every song, even the quirky experimental tribute to John Coltrane ("Coltrane Dreams") is just engaging.

Chaka has always stepped over into a rock zone now and again (see her Rufus days and 1980's Naughty album for starters), but this is probably her most rockin' n' reelin' effort she's done, and in my opinion, she totally nails it. You can hear her wail match those of Phil Collins' drums on the social awareness song, "Watching The World" and on "Who's It Gonna Be" she takes it to the stage, literally, as the song sounds like it was recorded at a crowded amphitheater. To me, she bests the grand dame of rock n' soul, Tina Turner, as her Break Every Rule record from the same year doesn't have that oomph that Destiny has. Though Scritti Politti only produced one number, their sophisti-pop sound radiates through a couple of the other numbers on here, including the bouncy title track, "It's You" with it's great piano breakdown, and the brooding, "I Can't Be Loved." Yet, all have much more bite to them.

Even though Destiny faltered chart wise, Chaka still kept her presence known as around this time she contributed vocals and vocal arrangements to Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" and Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love". The latter was due to be a duet between Palmer and Khan, but the idea was scratched. Hm. Doesn't that kind of make you wonder what that would've sounded like? Then again, we all know that Chaka can do bad all by herself, and Destiny just reminds of us of that.

Notable Tracks

Love Of A Lifetime
Not to be confused with Khan's later 1992 single, the similar titled, "Love You All My Lifetime", this is one of Scritti Politti's best (and few) production efforts. Not as cunning as "I Feel For You", but it's sunnier and as evidence by the "All Night Long" video rip-off, it's a dancing in the street type of anthem. It barely scraped the Top 20 at #21.

So Close
Like I said, I have penchant for when Chaka goes straight up rock, because it fits her attitude and style well. "So Close" is no disappointment, had all the makings of a strong hit single right down to the grinding guitars, but somehow just didn't latch on.

Tight Fit
Easily, this screamed hit, but ended up being at the bottom of the singles barrel. I find this to be the best song on the record, it's not too over-the-top as some of the other cuts on Destiny are, and it sort of quiet things down, but still grooves along nicely. Oh, and there's a sax in there and pop songs just sound better when a saxophone is wedged in there somehow.

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