VIRGO - VIRGO
It seems almost a shame that it has taken 21 years for this most remarkable of albums to be repressed. Eric Lewis and Merwyn Sanders have long since sunk from view, but in 1989 they released their self-titled debut on fledging UK label Radical, which at the time was reissuing Chicago records to a European market. They only released one other record, but this weighty, deep and at times beautifully abstract record has been a collector’s item since. Thankfully Rush Hour have given everyone who wasn’t prepared to pay ridiculous prices the chance to listen to this most elegant of albums.
In terms of great house albums, it’s hard to think of anything that sums up this particular period better. Whilst it’s difficult to escape the basic “Boxjam” aesthetic that prevailed over all Chicago records at this time, there’s a sense of deep introspection and melancholy that saturates the songs on this album that puts it much closer to Detroit in my view. The production values are professional, and at 8 songs in total, with none of them being longer than 4 1/2 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its length. Alongside Hardy, Heard, Jefferson and Armando, the names of Lewis and Sanders should be at the top of the Chicago pantheon.
Opener “Do you know who we are?” is shimmering Chi-town jack at its finest, with coiled-spring energy tucked into the tight chords. It’s followed by the hypnotic splendour of “In a Vision”, which, with its dancing pads and floating patinas of spectral noise stills sound as thrillingly majestic as it did then. This is Chicago house entering a new, more sophisticated era, which in many ways, it never really followed up with, and it is perhaps in some ways a sad indictment of house music that for all digital music’s possibilities, it is hard to think of something quite as fulfilling.
“Take me higher” is indicative of interesting abstracted ideas; the rhythm builds suspense, whilst an embryonic melody coalesces over it, fizzing whooshes giving it a slightly diluted feeling of euphoria. Proceedings take a dark turn with the bubbling, stygian feel of “Ride”. It’s dark, deep house with a coruscating edge that never fails to produce a response, and 21 years on, has a vintage aspect that you suspect will only improve with time. “School Hall” takes things down a notch or two, but “Never want to lose You” retains that esoteric charm that all Chicago records seem to have - the combination of analogue drum machines and a sense of tangible space in the recordings - and takes it to another level, with subtle vocal refrains adding a touch of soul. It’s deep, sexy and wonderfully of its time. Closer “All the time” sees a few of the various musical memes from the album come together, underpinned by some live bass guitar.
Chicago House’s great appeal was a sense of rawness combined with the impact of analogue hardware. Here, Lewis and Sanders added with an assured touch an element of melodic deepness that went beyond the powerful thunder of the 303 so enjoyed by their contemporaries such as Armando and the like. Rush Hour’s decision to repress this album gives us all an opportunity to enjoy an album that has not only stood the test of time, but also gives a new generation a landmark to draw inspiration from.